Since bursting onto the literary stage in 1992 to huge acclaim and equally impressive sales with The Secret History, Donna Tartt has been content to immerse herself in her writing, publishing only two other books since. Her latest, The Goldfinch, has received overwhelmingly positive reviews on both sides of the Atlantic and has been named by countless reviewers as one of the literary world’s 2013 high points. Her prose is often accurately described as “Dickensian,” a fact that mostly amuses the Southern writer. (She recently said her reading was limited to the classics, primarily because those were the only books her public library owned.).
Unlike The Secret History, which tells the story of a very small circle of collegiate intellectuals, and The Little Friend, Tartt’s sophomore effort, which features a group of eccentric aunts who greatly animated Tartt’s childhood, The Goldfinch feels much broader in scope and ambition.
It’s a coming-of-age tale that takes us inside the dangerous black market of the art world. After an explosion at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art takes the life of a young teen’s mother, the boy, Theo Decker, walks out unnoticed with the priceless Dutch painting from which the book gets its title. Fearing foster care, Theo’s gift at assimilation allows him to live for a short time with the wealthy Park Avenue family of a schoolyard pal, while spending his after-school hours with the loveable old Hobie, an antique store owner whose kindness is boundless. When Theo’s real father shows up one day to collect Theo and whatever loot was left behind by his mother, the novel shifts to the soulless desert of Las Vegas.
Throughout this nearly 800-page opus, Tartt is at the top of her game, whether rendering Theo’s emotionally ravaged world or detailing the unique kinship between Theo and his only friend in Vegas, Boris, a wild and colorful Eastern European vagabond. The final third of The Goldfinch lands Theo back in New York City, freelancing as Hobie’s assistant and business partner or prowling the dark and gloomy streets of Amsterdam, where he’s visited by a ghost from Christmas past. Tartt is a poet with her prose and The Goldfinch will be read by countless generations. Grade: A+