December 2013 - January 2014

Arts & Letters

Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’

By Caroline Hamilton
Little, Brown; $32.99

Theo Decker is 13 when he survives a bomb attack that kills his mother. The pair are taking shelter from bad weather at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art when terrorists strike. The explosion occurs just after Theo’s mother has drawn his attention to her favourite painting, the Dutch master Carel Fabritius’ 1654 The Goldfinch. In the chaos after the explosion, Theo grabs the picture and flees. It shows a small pet bird tethered to a perch, which comes to serve as a haunting emblem in what follows.

In Fabritius’ day, the goldfinch was a popular cage bird. It was also obsessively painted, and came to symbolise endurance and suffering. With almost 800 pages before them, readers of Donna Tartt’s latest novel also need to have a touch of the obsessive. The Goldfinch is unashamedly dense with narrative detail. The novel chronicles the 14 years through which Theo drifts from New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam, through the high and low lives of fine art restoration and drug addiction. A near-orphan, Theo has few allies in life save for a kindly furniture restorer, Hobie, a wayward best friend, Boris – a memorable Ukrainian by way of Australia and Russia – and a childhood love, Pippa. Despite some improbable scenarios, the novel is filled with sharp detail and piercing experiences from the feel of fine antique brocades between the fingers to the fugue state of a drug high.

Tartt made her name more than 20 years ago with The Secret History, a debut that showcased an unusual talent for cerebral and controlled prose combined with the taut pacing of genre fiction. Here she demonstrates this talent yet again: although Theo makes several attempts to restore the stolen painting to the museum, he cannot let go and is eventually led into a dark underworld of drug lords and gangsters.

Several reviewers have made comparisons with Dickens’ gripping serials and even JK Rowling’s tales of the boy-wizard Harry Potter (a similarity noted by one of the characters late in the novel), but it may be more apt to compare Tartt’s elaborate story to the must-see cable TV shows that currently constitute so much of our narrative diet. The Goldfinch brings the pleasure of a dense, immersive story from our small screens back to books, and provides readers ample excuse for an obsessive binge.

December 2013 - January 2014

From the front page

Image of the Lower Darling near Wilcannia

New developments in watergate scandal

The EAA deal is not the only buyback that warrants scrutiny

Image of Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison

The vision thing

So far, the federal election campaign of 2019 is a surprise return to the politics of yesteryear

Illustration

The F45 gym revolution

The Australian fitness franchise is high-fiving its way around the world

Image of Dame Edna Everage

Much ado about Barry

On Humphries’s brand of confronting comedy and the renaming of the Barry Award


In This Issue

Jonathan Teplitzky’s ‘The Railway Man’

Colin Firth and Nicole Kidman on the Burma Railway

We don’t want to believe in climate change

Fire, climate and denial

Ocean Drive, Miami. © Virginia Duran

Back to Miami

A dip into childhood

Bill Garner’s ‘Born in a Tent’

NewSouth Books; $39.99


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Valeria Luiselli

Missing witnesses: Valeria Luiselli’s ‘Lost Children Archive’

The Mexican ‘documentary fiction’ writer delivers a polyphonic road trip

Image of David Malouf

David Malouf’s new worlds

Consciousness is at the heart of the celebrated author’s body of work

Image of Solange

A black woman in space: Solange’s ‘When I Get Home’

Songs distilled from the quiet expanses of high art and black culture

Haruki to Highsmith: Lee Chang-dong’s ‘Burning’

Mr Ripley echoes through a masterful tale of class tensions in Seoul


More in Noted

Image of ‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

‘Islands’ by Peggy Frew

The bestselling author delivers a nuanced examination of family tragedy

‘Who Killed My Father’ by Édouard Louis (trans. Lorin Stein)

Political rage fuels the French author’s account of a fraught father–son relationship

‘Exploded View’ by Carrie Tiffany

This new novel is most striking in how it diverges from its predecessors

‘Zebra and Other Stories’ by Debra Adelaide

Difficult-to-grasp characters populate this new collection


Read on

Image of Bill Shorten and Scott Morrison

The vision thing

So far, the federal election campaign of 2019 is a surprise return to the politics of yesteryear

Image of Dame Edna Everage

Much ado about Barry

On Humphries’s brand of confronting comedy and the renaming of the Barry Award

Image from ‘Eat the Problem’

Can ‘Eat the Problem’ solve the problem?

Mona’s new project explores our fraught ethics of consumption

Image from ‘Janet Laurence: After Nature’

‘Janet Laurence: After Nature’ at the MCA

This survey offers a root and branch study of the natural world’s fragility


×
×