the goldfinch


The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Have you ever met someone who's gone through something traumatic - it doesn't have to be surviving a bombing (where his mother did not), like Theo in The Goldfinch, but at least something you know would be damn hard to recover from - and wondered how they do recover? Or even look back on your own recovery from such an event and wonder how you ever managed?

Theo's journey of struggling to his feet and figuring out how to understand the good and the bad behaviors of himself and those around him is the core of The Goldfinch. It's heartbreaking and fascinating and tremulous to experience this particular character's journey. It's also about friendship, love, loyalty, kindness (which seems a rather simple word but is as valuable as the painting here), art, history.... so, so much and yet it's not all too much. I'm not going to be one of the many reviewers who say that this book is too long because I like long books and didn't find anything extraneous here. If you don't like some philosophy, some searching  by the characters, you might feel a bit bogged down but I always found these bits really bits rather than chunks and always something to which I related and over which I ruminated.

Tartt is more talented than any other author I've read at conveying gestures by characters that I can immediately understand because I've seen them in people around me, "My dad put his arm around her wait and drew her to him with a sort of kneading motion that made me sick."

She re-affirms for me why I travel and why one should accept and seek out new adventures: ", the ocean gives me the shivers but then I've never been on an adventure like yours. You never know. Because -" brow furrowed, tapping out a bit of soft black powder on his palette - "I never dreamed that all that old furniture of Mrs. De Peyster's would be the thing that decided my future. Maybe you'll get fascinated by hermit crabs and study marine biology. Or decided you want to build boats, or be a marine painter, or write the definitive book about the Lusitania."

Pippa's vulnerability (and own recovery from the same trauma): "She accepted my hand in hers, without saying anything - all bundled up, she hadn't let them take her coat. Long sleeves in summer - always swathed in half a dozen scarves, like some sort of cocooned insect wrapped in layers - protective padding for a girl who'd been broken and stitched and bolted back together again." Lines like this are what makes Tartt's writing so beautiful for me - some might think using both stitched and bolted is redundant but I find them both absolutely pertinent and necessary.

The painting The Goldfinch is, of course, pervasive through the novel both in it's physical presence and also in all it's symbolic levels, but this description of the "little guy" (as Boris would say) in the painting is just perfect and heart-rending: "Yet even a child can see its dignity: thimble of bravery, all fluff and brittle bone. Not timid, not even hopeless, but steady and holding its place. Refusing to pull back from the world."

Oh, my god. I want to quote so much from this book. I'm feeling teary, having transcribed these lines. I know people talk about books that have changed their lives, books they will return to, books that are milestones in their reading careers. SECRET: I'm an English major. I am always reading, I am always finding books I adore, I am always exhausted by excellent books and dread picking up whatever's next in the queue because I'm certain that it'll never live up to what I've just experienced. So I assure you, I am affected. But the secret? I'm not entirely sure I've had one of those books until this one. One of those books that I will call one of the pinnacles of my life, of my experience. I read some incredible books, right up there. But I think this is the first in that ultimate, intimate category.

But I have to - I have to one more quote. It's long, but, well, just, HERE, take it:

"Only here's what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted - ? What if the heart, for it's own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility, and strong social connections and all the blandly - held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? Is Kitsey right? If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight towards the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is singing at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement, the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? Or - like Boris - is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?"

Okay. Just ONE more: "And in the midst of our dying, as we rise from the organic and sink back ignominiously into the organic, it is a glory and a privilege to love what Death doesn't touch."