My holiday season read this year is Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, which is also Amazon’s pick for the best book of the year. At the moment, I am about three quarters into it and it has been good enough to keep me flipping through the pages.
Centered around a small goldfinch painting by Carel Fabritius, disciple of one of the greatest Dutch painter Rembrandt, the story is as much an Oliver Twist tale as well as an Ocean Eleven art-heist drama. When young Theodore Decker lost his mother in a terrorist attack at the museum, he gained a piece of artwork that was handed to him by a dying stranger, bringing about a lifetime of obsession with the painting.
The rest of the narrative follows Theo during his bumpy growing-up years having never fully recovered from the incident as he rides through ups and downs to deftly explore themes of solace and grief. In between Theo’s lonesome struggle with his illness and gnawing drug addiction, the distance he puts between reality and his thoughts, punctuated by regular flashbacks of scenes with his dead mother, is perceptive and very real. Adopting Jack Kerouac’s babble flow, Theo’s mind becomes a surreal ground filled with a riot of spontaneous ideas and images running through it.
“Hordes of people on the street, lighted Christmas trees sparkling high on penthouse balconies and complacent Christmas music floating out of shops, and weaving in and out of crowds I had a strange feeling of being already dead, of moving in a vaster sidewalk grayness than the street or even the city could encompass, my could encompass, my soul disconnected from my body and drifting among other souls in a mist somewhere between past and present, Walk Don’t Walk, individual pedestrians floating up strangely isolated and lonely before my eyes, blank faces plugged into earbuds and staring straight ahead, lips moving silently, and the city noise dampened and deafened, under crushing, granite-colored skies that muffled the noise from the street, garbage and newsprint, concrete and drizzle, a dirty winter grayness weighing like stone.”
Although this is not the most jolly read amidst the festivities, the elegance of the prose and intricate descriptions of Manhattan compensate for the morbid and bleak tone that help me troop through the 700-odd page book. I simply cannot wait to find out the ending and till then, tschus!