While some authors churn books out in quick succession, releasing one or two a year, others make us wait longer for our fix. When it comes to Donna Tartt, we have to wait so long between books that the only feasible approach when she releases a new novel is to savour it, to resist the urge to fly through and finish it as quickly as possible. The Goldfinch is her third book in 22 years, coming 11 years after 2002’s The Little Friend, and after such a long wait it comes with a heavy weight of expectation attached.
Across a mammoth page count, the Goldfinch follows the life of Theodore Decker as he struggles to maintain equilibrium after a terrible accident that ties him inextricably to a tiny painting by Dutch painter Carel Fabritius. At times heartbreaking, tear-jerking, breathtaking and utterly compulsive, we watch as his life is affected at every turn by the events of a single day. In his own words, it’s like “a column of figures where you add two numbers wrong at the start…if you trace it back, you can see the mistake – the point where you would have a different outcome.” Helpless to intervene as his life takes unexpected twists and turns, we’re reminded constantly of what lies at the heart of Theo’s problems and prompted to wonder about our own lives, and whether there might be similar crossroads somewhere back down the line where things could have turned out differently.
Make no mistake, this is not a happy book; look elsewhere for an easy read or a life-affirming story. For anyone looking for a thought-provoking, challenging, human story however The Goldfinch is a book that rewards the reader for their emotional fortitude and comes alive with rich, complex, powerful storytelling. Characters are instantly familiar, relatable and multi-dimensional; the world we are shown is full of grey areas and populated by characters who live constantly astride the line between right and wrong, good and bad. As a reader we’re left free to decide whether we should judge them for their choices and the way they live, or accept that life is all about small margins and that concepts like right and wrong, good and bad, are relative…contextual.
If the next book from Donna Tartt takes another 10 or more years to arrive, so be it. As long as it comes written with the same spirit, detail, inventiveness and sheer mesmerising beauty, it will be worth the wait.