The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

This was a birthday present from my friend Mads. It took me ten months to pick it up and two to finish it. I don’t think I expected to fall into it quite so easily but it grabbed me. Young boy, in trouble, story shifting and changing every page. A bildungsroman that kicks Oliver Twist in the face and tells him to stop whining.

Carel Fabritus painted The Goldfinch in 1654 and I didn’t know about it until this book. I thought I liked art in that I would seek out older paintings and photography, and I would ask myself what it made me feel like and what I liked about it. I left it at that.

The concept of the meaning of art being up to the interpreter is not a new one. It’s an idea that I first met in the theatre portion of my course, and it has clung to me like wet clothes and skin ever since. We, the audience, are authors in a way. Art is for everyone, and if it’s not, it doesn’t work. I believe this, I’ve repeated this- and yet I haven’t been embracing it fully.

I don’t even know where to begin. When I put down the book this morning knowing that the next time I picked it up there would be nothing unfamiliar about it a part of me just wanted to lie down and hold it for a while, maybe play a little music, say a proper goodbye. I joke. Mostly. I don’t think it is goodbye, I think there are moments in here, moments circling fate, time, loss, beauty and those have to be revisited.

Tied to the perspective of the young lad, as the story is told by his older self, Tartt kept me hooked, every glance, every motion, every flickering thought was covered. So when things got progressively more and more disturbing, the safe-guarding aware adult in me was audibly groaning and shouting expletives (I’m locked away in my flat, I didn’t scare anyone) but the me that was draped around Theo, watching his every move, that me was in the sadness.

I also had my moments of being truly blown away by just how much images are here, each scene, set out like a gallery, the light, the weather, the framing, placing the picture into your mind, flowing from one to the next. I enjoyed this, especially because of how significant art, and our relationship with art and beauty and meaning, is in the novel. So much of the action centres around art. It was a well balanced metaphor, encompassing connection and the human experience in it – the passage of time from piece’s creation and through the ages, hands, countries it passes between, even what it offers up to the reader. It is this timeless and shared thing, owned by no one, owned by everyone.

It made me wonder ‘how much art have I seen that I would never remember again?’ The art that I found again and again because of who I saw it with, or the feeling I had when I first saw it and to even see a pixelated form, it rested a searching restlessness.

I loaned it to my friend. I told him not to be put off by the volume of it- yes it is weighty in the hands- but it is a wonderful walk through a gallery with lovely bits of emotion. But it does feel long sometimes, it is for rainy days with extra time and cups of tea.

The ending, I can’t say much about because I shouldn’t. But it reminded me that we don’t have to have everything tied up neatly in the story arc we have grown used to expecting. Even the neatest and prettiest endings all tied up don’t necessarily stay that way, but that doesn’t matter most anyway.

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