by Donna Tartt
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Donna Tartt's "The Secret History" is a great favourite of mine; I was captivated by the private universe she created, even though it wasn't an especially pleasant one. "The Little Friend" I found less memorable, though obviously highly accomplished.
As in her previous novels, "The Goldfinch" gives pulp-fiction plotting a high-culture sheen. The title refers to a painting, the first viewing of which, by young narrator Theo, coincides with a catastrophic incident. It then goes on to dominate his life, as the plot takes him from old money New York to trailer-trash Las Vegas and back, via various misadventures involving severe family crisis, substance abuse, furniture restoration and Ukrainian gangsters.
In Hitchcockian terms, the painting is a MacGuffin - an object which drives the plot, and motivates the protagonists. In the face of grief, upheaval and romantic disappointment, Theo's Goldfinch remains a symbol of hope and continuity.
Impeccably researched as the book is, the pace sometimes falters as the author gets bogged down in obscure detail. This is entirely justifiable given the obsessional nature of the central character, but slightly alienating. For the most part, though, the writing is beautiful - meticulous and profound.
Vastly imperfect though he is, our hero is a sympathetic one, Tartt making it easy to identify with his somewhat messy life and troubled relationships. "The Goldfinch" is a heartfelt tale of love, loss, and the search for meaning in a world where disaster is always just round the corner.
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