The Goldfinch

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tartDonna Tartt’s latest masterpiece truly haunts. Its one of those rare pieces of fiction that not just touches but yanks a chord and one can never be the same after traversing through it’s literary riches. It’s my first book of Ms Tartt and I must say she makes it to the list of my favorite authors and this book makes it to one of the best books that I have ever read. I am definitely not surprised that it both won the Pulitzer this year and stayed firmly nailed to the best-seller charts since when it was published. If art is what balms your soul in an otherwise dreary life, this tome of fiction is art. Just perfect.

Just as Theodore Decker is introduced to the reader comes the first twist, a fateful bombing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City which takes his mother away from the 13-year old Theo. With that his adventure starts, moving to Vegas, the Dickinson life of a young lad, cruel fate, unrequited love, a little dog, subtle doses of mirth, realistic happenings, honesty and characters like no other. And his fragile life is tied to Fabritius’s master-piece, The Goldfinch. Art theft, terrorism and finally philosophy. The book ends with a serious dose of philosophy so simply explained, that nonchalantly puts up pertinent questions and cajoles you to think, to really really think. And before you know it, youre in love with the prose. Like great art, its beauty lies in the eyes of its beholder. I won’t force my opinion down your throat nor will I prod you to read it. But if you do read you may love it or hate it, but you can simply not ignore it or be non-pulsed by it.

Here’s an extract from the book, it is out of context here, probably better appreciated when put in the context of the book, but its great writing anyway.

“I look at the blanked-out faces of the other passengers–hoisting their briefcases, their backpacks, shuffling to disembark–and I think of what Hobie said: beauty alters the grain of reality. And I keep thinking too of the more conventional wisdom: namely, that the pursuit of pure beauty is a trap, a fast track to bitterness and sorrow, that beauty has to be wedded to something more meaningful.

Only what is that thing? Why am I made the way I am? Why do I care about all the wrong things, and nothing at all for the right ones? Or, to tip it another way: how can I see so clearly that everything I love or care about is illusion, and yet–for me, anyway–all that’s worth living for lies in that charm?

A great sorrow, and one that I am only beginning to understand: we don’t get to choose our own hearts. We can’t make ourselves want what’s good for us or what’s good for other people. We don’t get to choose the people we are.

Because–isn’t it drilled into us constantly, from childhood on, an unquestioned platitude in the culture–? From William Blake to Lady Gaga, from Rousseau to Rumi to Tosca to Mister Rogers, it’s a curiously uniform message, accepted from high to low: when in doubt, what to do? How do we know what’s right for us? Every shrink, every career counselor, every Disney princess knows the answer: “Be yourself.” “Follow your heart.”

Only here’s what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can’t be trusted–? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly-held common virtues and instead straight toward a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster?…If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? Or…is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?” 

or well this one;

“Well—I have to say I personally have never drawn such a sharp line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ as you. For me: that line is often false. The two are never disconnected. One can’t exist without the other. As long as I am acting out of love, I feel I am doing best I know how. But you—wrapped up in judgment, always regretting the past, cursing yourself, blaming yourself, asking ‘what if,’ ‘what if.’ ‘Life is cruel.’ ‘I wish I had died instead of.’ Well—think about this. What if all your actions and choices, good or bad, make no difference to God? What if the pattern is pre-set? No no—hang on—this is a question worth struggling with. What if our badness and mistakes are the very thing that set our fate and bring us round to good? What if, for some of us, we can’t get there any other way?” 

“What if — is more complicated than that? What if maybe opposite is true as well? Because, if bad can sometimes come from good actions—? where does it ever say, anywhere, that only bad can come from bad actions? Maybe sometimes — the wrong way is the right way? You can take the wrong path and it still comes out where you want to be? Or, spin it another way, sometimes you can do everything wrong and it still turns out to be right?”

and most preferably

“We have art in order to not die from the truth.”

Maybe it’s because of New York, maybe its because of art, maybe its the racy narrative, maybe its the gripping plot, maybe the literary genius (I had to fetch the dictionary almost at every other turn of the page!), maybe the sheer beauty of prose, maybe the starkness of emotion, the novel had me hanging on to every word.

P.S. It is a hyperbole I know but five-hundred stars is what I would rate Donna Tartt’s ‘The Goldfinch’.


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