The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt
When 13-year-old Theo Decker’s father – a failed actor, reluctant husband and bad-tempered drunk – walks out, he and his mother determine to survive. Theo loves his mother, a dazzling, bird-like creature with a dreamer’s belief in love, art and life. Many writers could have taken the bare facts of Donna Tartt’s third and finest novel and offered a sugary variation of David Copperfield crossed with Great Expectations. Tartt is no Dickens, but she does have a feel for character, manic description and the surging possibilities of narrative. When tragedy strikes on a visit to the Museum of Modern Art, Theo meets a dying man who sets him on a journey towards another dreamer, almost a male variation of his mother, who will have a huge influence on his life. This is a very funny book, far funnier than The Secret History and far better than The Little Friend. It combines biting observation, vivid comedy, laugh- out-loud one-liners, exasperated asides and very sharp dialogue. It is a huge book and very easy to read; an unabashed picaresque in which the comic does at times yield to the profound. A major theme is betrayal. Theo’s mind is a tormented hall of mirrors, ravaged by his escapist drug-taking. Yet he has interludes of stark lucidity, his thoughts shifting between grief, remorse and his love of beauty. The Goldfinch is very good: vivid, alive and sad – even, at times, elegiac.