Posted by: Ele Quigan | January 19, 2014

The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt

So this book has caused a publicity storm for a fairly unknown painting. I guess similar to the way Dan Brown has reinvigorated loves for Leonardo di Vinci, the illuminati, Florence and various places and items, people flocked to see this mysterious piece of art in the flesh.

It’s always strange seeing much talked talked about art for the first time. I vividly remember seeing the Mona Lisa, the painting moving before my very eyes, smiling and not smiling (I find it incredibly hard seeing so many people saying “what’s so great about it” I still think it’s one of the most incredible paintings in existence). I’ve spent many hours in quiet and busy galleries all over the world looking at familiar art. I loved The Starry Night – it was so green? Which you never see reproduced in pictures, and painted so quickly you can see he canvas underneath.

Caravaggio is another favourite, and after walking miles through the Uffizi, beyond the first half which was nothing but tourists (which even at booking an 8am entrance seemed to be just as busy & stressful when you’re just trying to quietly look at something incredible). His room was being rebuilt, so the small amount of works were right near the exit. It felt like a converted cloakroom, the Medusa stared at you as you stared back, daring a painting to turn you to stone.

The statue of David, towering over with such grace was mindblowing, but I preferred the Medici Chapel sculptures, Night and Day, Dusk & Dawn

There’s so much more I’ve seen, and I can see the attachment to a single piece of artwork, and why in the dark of tragedy (terrorist attack in the museum that takes place at the very beginning of the book) why a small piece of art could be surreptitiously taken, maybe to protect? Maybe to treasure? Maybe to hold on to, to take place of those loved and lost.

Without sounding cheesy, this book is great. Incredibly sad, it imbues loneliness and strife but never in my opinion became trite. It is dark, very dark, but with little elements of light and humour that carry it through. The characters are flawed, difficult, rambling sometimes without cause, but that adds to the authenticity of a story that is otherwise completely fantastical.

I guess similar to Requiem for a Dream which I also read this week it has that ‘American Dream’ feel, orphan do well, triumph over extreme adversity (maybe that’s just a trope easily exploited for dramatic intent), but with serious drug addiction & alcoholism attached.

The end had a chapter long soliloquy, weirdly reminding me of John Galt’s long speech in Atlas Shugge (it’s pages long) but it’s an exploration of love and loss, hope and death, and trying to make an understanding of life, working with the cards you’re dealt.

There’s a beautiful subtlety to this work that I don’t remember from her others. There’s a sad conversation between the protagonist and his best friend about behaviour that you suddenly realise must have been happening all along, but as with only hearing through the protagonist (who could never remember, he gets blackout drunk), you understand you’re getting that filtered side of the story. The first time in a long time that you’re aware (in such a human way) that you’re only seeing this from one side.

There’s some lovely quotes throughout the book, I think some people may hate the writing, to some it may feel superfluous or overblown, but I’ve always loved this style. It seems more fluid and explorative, that you truly get a sense of the whole thing rather than just being allowed a peak or a snapshot.

“We looked at each other and just laughed; everything was hysterically funny, even the playground slide was smiling at us, and at some point, deep in the night, when we were swinging on the jungle gym and showers of sparks were flying out of our mouths, I had the epiphany that laughter was light, and light was laughter, and that this was the secret of the universe.”

Here’s a brief interview with Donna Tartt, I’m at times amazed that it took 10 years to write, but that also makes sense. It’s layered and glorious, believable within such an unbelievable constraint.



  1. I am amazed that anyone can put in detail like Donna Tartt – not that I’ve got round to reading her latest yet. Sometimes words just feel like more words for the sake of them, but when they really work you get a detailed, 3D picture – which I imagine, if similar to her previous books, is like the masterpiece she is writing about.

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