Whenever you see flies or insects in a still life -- a wilted petal, a black spot on the apple -- the painter is giving you a secret message. He's telling you that living things don't last -- it's all temporary. Death in life. That's why they're called natures mortes. Maybe you don't see it at first with all the beauty and bloom, the little speck of rot. But if you look closer -- there it is."
After the jump, my review.
The message is not secret in this novel. The reader can't miss the "little speck of rot" in life here. The wilted petals, the black spots on the apple are all too apparent in the life of Theo Decker. But the thing is, so too are the "beauty and bloom." Theo Decker, the narrator, is real, complex and conflicted. He is simultaneously a naif and a cad, both grieving and unfeeling, at times a victim and at times a schemer. He is as three-dimensional a character as you'll find in fiction. He's well aware of his flaws, which include an inability to change: "We can't choose what we want and don't want and that's the hard lonely truth. Sometimes we want what we want even if we know it's going to kill us. We can't escape who we are." In the end, he's neither hero nor villain. Like all of us, he's some of both. He's real. That's Donna Tartt's greatest achievement in writing this novel.
The Goldfinch deservedly won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014. The story is that of a missing painting, a museum masterpiece, and the thirteen year old boy who knows something about its disappearance. The novel follows the boy as he grows up, being passed from home to home in New York, Las Vegas, and finally back to New York, with the story climaxing in Amsterdam (which happens to be the real home of the real painting, The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius).
It is a very long novel (755 pages), which gives the author the time to write at great length about details that don't directly serve the plot. A less patient editor might have forced the author to cut. That would have been a mistake. Although the story of the painting is at the heart of the novel, it's the whole of Theo Decker's life that makes The Goldfinch such a great read.
The Goldfinch is available in Kindle format from the Richardson Public Library. :-)