Sunday 26 November 2023

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt (2013)


Rating: Sublime

Donna Tartt is due to publish another novel, there's been ten years between each of them, her time well spent meticulously constructing each one. I hope she follows her modus operandi now I've finally read The Goldfinch, I'm all out of literary masterpieces to read and she owes us another. Is the novel really that good however? After some initial doubts, that dissipated after about one hundred pages in, I looked on the net for how it had been received initially to find that opinions were split between the novel being lauded and awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and demonised as a glorified YA novel, with one critic from The New Yorker regarding it as representing the "infantilisation of our literary culture." He goes on to reference the horror of adults reading Harry Potter novels, which is an interesting critical barb considering that the novel's main protagonist, Theo Decker, is referred to as 'Potter' by his friend Boris, a Ukrainian juvenile-delinquent who is bursting with dark energy. I find such criticism curious, did the critic forget about, for example, American canonical novels such as J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951), with its dysfunctional teenage protagonist, Holden Caulfield, and going back further in literary time, Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). Both novels used youthful viewpoints to critique the adult world. Often significant novels need some time to be truly recognised for what they are. Regardless of what some critics thought, The Goldfinch is brilliant modern realism, vivid and exquisitely detailed, Tartt's descriptive abilities are superb, her prose beautiful, her turn of phrase breathtaking.  The world she builds is one to get completely lost in. Although the novel is long (864 pages), it appears, like a Tardis, even larger on the inside, it's a total literary marvel. 

The Goldfinch - Carel Fabritius (1654)

The Goldfinch begins with a thirteen-year-old Decker losing his mother in a terrorist attack that targets the art gallery they have visited in New York. Decker leaves the resultant wreckage with his life and the Goldfinch painting in his backpack. It becomes both a treasure beyond its artistic value and a burden. The novel follows Decker's life in the aftermath of the attack. Such is the brilliance of Tartt's prose you are right there with him through it all. One of the novel's strengths is the utter believability of the characters lives, you get to know them as if they are people you have personally met. This is why, despite the novel's obsession with detail and sometimes slow pace, the narrative has such a powerful pull. At one point, long after Decker had been taken to suburban Vegas by his dysfunctional father, where he meets Boris, I wondered when this part was going to end. There's page after page spent in the sun-blasted days and insular nights of the Vegas suburban desert, getting wasted on booze and weed and whatever else Theo and Boris can get their hands on, that it borders on tedium (this is hard-core realism after all), but then much later in the novel Decker is thinking about that time and you feel a sense of nostalgia that's profound, as if you've lived it yourself. I even began to think about that part of the narrative during times when I wasn't reading the novel, as if I'd lived it. The Goldfinch is epic, contains genius level prose, and is utterly intense and believable. You care so much about what may happen to the characters the tension becomes almost unbearable. There is, however, a feeling that The Goldfinch is not for every reader. Some will perhaps become bored, or daunted by its epic length, glacial pace and psychological intensity, but it's worth attempting and persevering with, even if there's doubt there; its one on the greatest novels I've read and I can tell you absolutely that it is well worth the ride.