Donna Tart: The Goldfinch
Posted by Meghan Hayes
The Goldfinch is my favourite piece of fiction (followed by Freedom, and then A Book of Common Prayer) and I think about it all the time. I had always wanted to read it because Bret Easton Ellis was obsessed with it and gave it so much praise. I always take a recommendation from Ellis via twitter seriously because we both have very similar taste in books ... probably because we are both die hard Didion fans. My supervisor leant me this book in the summer of 2015. It was hard cover, weighed like 10 pounds and was made up of 784 bible-thin pages. 784 SOUL-CRUSHINGLY SAD PAGES.
I feel like I shouldn't even write anymore without sharing my favourite passage seeing as I think about this once a week and repeat it to everyone I know at inappropriate times. Ahhhhhhhh here it is:
“Because I don’t care what anyone says or how often or winningly they say it: no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat. Because, here’s the truth: life is a catastrophe. The basic fact of existence – of walking around trying to feed ourselves and find friends and whatever else we do – is a catastrophe. Forget all this ridiculous ‘Our Town’ nonsense everyone talks: the miracle of a newborn babe, the joy of one simple blossom, Life You Are Too Wonderful To Grasp, etc. For me – and I’ll keep repeating it doggedly till I die, till I fall over on my ungrateful nihilistic face and am too weak to say it: better never born, than born into this cesspool. Sinkhole of hospital beds, coffins, and broken hearts. No release, no appeal, no “do-overs” to employ a favored phrase of Xandra’s, no way forward but age and loss, and no way out but death.”
I am so so glad I read this book but I should mention that my overall "life view" has drastically changed as a direct result of it. I think I have said "better never born at all," to every single person I've come across at a bar. A real buzz kill.
The Goldfinch follows Theo Decker from the time he was 13 until adulthood. The book starts with a bombing at a New York art museum where Theo survives but his mother is killed. In the confusion he leaves the museum with Carel Fabritus' famous painting The Goldfinch. The story follows him to Vegas where he lives with his shitty father and meets his best friend, a Ukrainian named Boris. Theo's time in the desert with Boris is full of drinking and drugs. It's the time in the desert that I tend to think about the most. You feel like you spend a lot of time there, but I find with any 500+ page book it is hard to tear your mind away from the characters after reading because of the sheer amount of time you have spent on them.
“There had been nights in the desert where I was so sick with laughter, convulsed and doubled over with aching stomach for hours on end, I would happily have thrown myself in front of a car to make it stop.”
Eventually Theo ends up fleeing the desert and ends up back in New York City. As an adult, he deals antiques (not always legally) and is addicted to a bunch of different drugs/medications. Because I am disturbed, my favourite part of any book is the crumbling relationship between any couple. Theo is engaged to his childhood friend's sister, Kitsey Barbour. Meg and I made a blood oath not to give spoilers, but their relationship is not at the heart of the story at all so I feel like I am allowed to say that she is cheating on him with this deadbeat guy she is still obsessed with and it is sad and interesting. I find myself hunting for the section in the book where Kitsey and Theo talk about it and essentially agree to marry each other anyways...
"She was scrabbling in the drawer for the corkscrew, and she turned and regarded me bleakly. 'Listen,' she said. 'I don't expect you to understand but it's rough to be in love with the wrong person.'"
I need to include here that Theo is not completely innocent in this relationship. Regardless of the fact that he is a closeted drug addict, he also has multiple "flings" throughout the book and is deeply in love with fellow bombing-survivor Pippa. Ahhh so tempted to write more spoilers...
This is probably my worst review yet and honestly it is just because I love this book so so much that I don't even know how to express it. It's also so much easier to write about non-fiction.
I should mention that just because I'm consumed by the pessimistic passages, you don't have to be. This book does not end in despair. The last paragraph is so quotable and uplifting, but I would never spoil the last words for anyone. Lock yourself in a room when you are finishing it so no one can disturb you.
I love this book because to me it just proves how important fiction is, and it makes me understand Franzen's concern with the death of the novel. I love non-fiction, but sometimes fiction feels 100 per cent more rewarding. I think about these fictional characters OFTEN ... more often than I think about the real people I have read about in memoirs / biographies.
This is the last passage I feel like I NEED to post. It is from Theo's friend Boris when they meet up in adulthood:
"Well—I have to say I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?”
Sometimes I feel like buying 20 copies of this book and just distributing them in King's Square like a maniac.