The Magic of Goldfinch Story
To say that the openings of the novels of Donna Tartt are compelling would be an understatement. Her Secret History opens up with a murder. Little Friend opens up with a child hanging dead on a tree. Perhaps the most astonishing opening that she has created so far is one for The Goldfinch where the story begins with a two-part prologue.
The first one is about a man named Theo Decker, who while in Amsterdam is scanning a newspaper that he cannot understand for his name. It tells of desperation signifying that something terrible is about to happen. The second part of the prologue goes back to the time that he visited the Metropolitan Museum in New York with his mother. The museum was bombed and the explosion kills his mother.
There is a certain danger in using such “bombastic” openings. It leaves the readers expecting more. The question is whether the writer can deliver. In Tartt’s case, she was more than able to do that. Published in 2013, the book won her the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
A Museum, a Bomb, and a Painting
When the explosion takes place in the museum, Theo was in a separate room from her mother. When he regains consciousness, he struggles to find his way back home. He expected to find his mother back there. Unknown to him, she has perished in the explosion.
In the confusion of the explosion, he encounters a man who gave him a ring and a cryptic message. In his shocked state, he believed that the old man was instructing him to take a painting which he did. In the confusion, he was able to make it home while carrying the painting from the museum.
The painting turned out to be The Goldfinch by Carel Fabritius. The painting is a real one and Fabritius was part of the Dutch Golden Age and a student of Rembrandt. Curiously, the painting is the favorite of Theo’s mother and was one of the reasons why they were at the museum on that day.
Theo moves in the house of a friend and he carried out the wishes of the dying man. He was able to deliver the ring to the house of the old man’s business partner, James “Hobie” Hobart, with whom he forms a friendship with. He also encounters the girl that he saw in the museum with the dying man. Her name was Pippa and it turns out that she was the daughter of the dying man. Her family has moved in with Hobie after the incident.
Viva Las Vegas
Theo’s life was in for a major change, when his father turned up and he takes him away to Las Vegas. It should be noted that Theo has decided to keep The Goldfinch painting which was assumed by the authorities to have been destroyed by the explosion. Theo decided that he would keep it. He takes the painting with him to Las Vegas.
In the strange new city, he becomes friends with Boris, the son of Ukrainian migrants. Boris is weird and yet he knows the world a lot more than Theo. Together they spend time drinking and using drugs. Their parents didn’t pay any attention to them.
Another tragedy visits Theo’s life. His father who was being harassed by a loan shark died in a car crash. Unsure as to what might happen to him, Theo takes a bus across the country and goes back to New York. Without any other place to go to, he goes to Hobie’s where he was welcomed with open arms. By chance, Pippa was visiting from Europe where she was studying.
Life Becomes Complicated
The story then jumps for a few years. He has become a partner in Hobie’s business. He was afraid that he would be accused of theft. Theo was already engaged to a friend since childhood but he is in love Pippa and his feelings are causing him a great deal of confusion. Pippa by that time was living in London and has a boyfriend.
Theo has become addicted to prescription drugs. He was also dealing with fake antiques that he had been selling and that has allowed him to save Hobie’s business. In other words, his life was a mess.
It was during that time that Boris reappeared in his life. Boris by then was a wealthy man. How he got rich was not fully explained, but it was implied that he was engaged in various illegal activities. Boris confesses to Theo that he had stolen the painting and it is now somewhere in the criminal underworld used as collateral.
Boris is hounded by guilt with what he had done to his friend so he comes up with a plan that would allow them to recover the painting. They fly to Amsterdam to meet up with underground art dealers who have the painting. The plan was for Boris and his men to steal the painting back.
Unfortunately, the plan goes bad and Boris is shot by one of the dealers. Theo ends up killing Boris’ attacker and the painting was taken away by one of the dealers. Theo goes back to his hotel room while Boris disappears.
He could not ply back to the United States because he doesn’t have his passport. Afraid that the police and the underworld are hunting him down, he considers killing himself. Before he can take action, Boris reappears saying that he has resolved the problem.
Boris has phoned the authorities to report that the dealers have the lost painting. In the process, he was able to receive a large reward for the painting. He splits the money he got with Theo.
When Theo got back to the United States, he spends the reward money to buy back all of the fake antiques that he sold to save Hobie’s business. He also realized that Pippa does love him but she chose not to reciprocate his feelings because they share the same trauma and same wounds. At the end of the day, the fact that they share so many wounds together might not make them happy.
The ending of the book does not signify an easy life for Theo. By all indications, he would still be hurt and he would continue to feel the wounds in his life, but there is also a note of hope at the end. It has a bittersweet feeling to it that makes the reader want to read more about what would happen to the character that they have learned to love.
Goldfinch and High Expectations
In some ways, the novel reminds one of Dicken’s Great Expectations. It’s also a tale about orphans and then there’s Pippa’s name. But the main common thing is the well-meaning main character who is forced to deal with the bad options given by life.
Tartt’s novel is a fantastic read and it really was able to live up to its exciting opening. In some parts, it reads like an action novel that was so alive and exciting. It really deserves all the awards and the recognition that it has won for its author. One can only hope that Tartt will write something as powerful as The Goldfinch in the years to come.