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A grand accomplishment
on December 31, 2013
Nothing is more satisfying to a reader than a big, thick book with a suspenseful plot and a multitude of interesting characters, all of whom come alive on the page. It's an added plus when the dialogue is natural and sounds distinctive for each character, and when the setting is so clearly described that a reader can visualize and feel the surroundings. Dickens could come up with such novels, and so, it turns out, can Donna Tartt.
The story begins in Amsterdam, with 27-year-old Theo Decker, terrified and ill, hiding out in a hotel room after an unnamed violent event. Through his narration, we are taken back to the thirteen-year-old Theo, who survives the terrorist bombing of an art museum which takes the life of his mother. Clearly suffering from survivor's guilt and PTSD, young Theo is taken in by the wealthy family of a friend, his alcoholic father having recently departed for parts unknown. We follow Theo from his life in New York as a private school student to the desolate outskirts of Las Vegas when his father reappears. Then it's back to New York as a partner in an antique business, before Amsterdam and a reluctant involvement with the criminal underworld. Binding the plot together from start to finish is a small painting, 'The Goldfinch,' the reason Theo and his mother visited the museum.
Tartt is particularly successful in the depictions of the many characters, through both indirect personal descriptions and accounts of their actions and an abundance of distinctive dialogue. The alcohol and gambling addicted father, the antique restorer Hobie who becomes a father figure, the amoral Russian boy Boris who befriends Theo in Las Vegas--all seem so real I can see and hear them in my mind.
I have never been to New York. I have never been to Las Vegas. I have never been to Amsterdam. But I feel that I know them, through Donna Tartt, just as I know Victorian England, through Charles Dickens.
This seems like an old-fashioned novel in many respects, in that it tells an extended story in detail. That seems to be rather out of fashion these days. But it is a modern novel in other respects, in that it addresses both current and universal human predicaments. The realistic ending is not "happily ever after," but then whose life ever is?
Onward through the fog.