Fiction that Borders on Memory- Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch


How often is it that we read a novel so good it sinks into our bones, and stays there long after we have finished it?

I have little patience for unnecessarily slow character development, “filler” sentences, scenes or episodes, and descriptions that go nowhere. A lengthy novel that lasts till the final page without including any of these is one to be reckoned with indeed.

I discovered Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch via the means of a Tumblr quote. For the life of me I cannot remember what is was but it made me search the local library I live near to for almost two weeks till I found it.

The Goldfinch is an extended voyage through its protagonist’s Theodore Decker’s (Theo) life. It begins when he survives a terrorist attack that kills his mother, an event that introduces him to a painting, a ring and a girl, three seemingly unrelated events that eventually pave the road he ends up on.

Reading this novel is allowing yourself to be led along by a multi coloured, singing string wrapped around your wrist. It tugs you ever on, entangling you in the achingly drawn-out hours in the disorienting aftermath of the explosion, the psychedelic, drug-induced feet-on-the-ceiling, face-in-the-rug afternoons with Boris and Theo, the musty comfort of Hobie’s furniture shop. Although I initially found the novel’s length slightly intimidating, it was hard to resist the invitation to the rest of it each scene extended.

This novel is laden with description. In some of the scenes, this is taken to the point where it feels like every mote of dust, every minute that ticks by, is accounted for. However, instead of weighing the story down, Tartt’s mastery ensures that this attention to detail but brings each scene ever more to life, so that the reader feels him or herself there. The many, strategically placed, repetitions only serve to make the places and people the novel houses concrete.

This novel really stands out to me, and I have chosen it to begin my book club with, because of how real it feels to this day. When I think of dusty, sun-bleached afternoons in dead-end Nevada suburbs, I’ve been there, know what I mean? When I think of the soft light and tread of half-hidden old furniture shops with a kindly old man, it takes a while before I realise that what I’m remembering is a place from The Goldfinch, instead of somewhere I’ve actually visited. Boris and Hobie are like my old friends.

I could inject the clichéd “this is a Bildungsroman of heartache, and loss, and reconciliation”, and it’d be true. But The Goldfinch is so much more than just that. For me, at least, it is fiction that borders on memory. So give it a go if you haven’t yet. I recommend it for anyone who, like me, is always in search of a good story.

It’s sometimes hard to find a good book, and I am glad when I do.

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