Donna Tartt, “The Goldfinch”

Donna Tartt, “The Goldfinch”

 

Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt can afford to spend years doing her research on art history, the underworld of antique and art sales, insights into high society, what it means to be tripping on drugs, some (peculiar) notions of love, etc. After having read the novel I am not surprised to read she can spend hours and days fidgeting with a comma or looking for a precise word. The craftsmanship is incredible. The long wordy descriptions about situations, rooms, people, etc. The novel is quite difficult to put down.

Read the book for understanding restoration of antique wood furniture. Read it for understanding the variety of drugs easily available. Read it for a peep into high society of New York.

A question that buzzed through my mind constantly was how do you spend over a decade tinkering with a story, without any part of it sounding dated. Well I am not sure of the answer. I can only offer a possibility. The answer probably lies in the details. Donna Tartt gets so absorbed in her descriptions of the school, the museum, the paintings, the restoration of antiques, antique trade, the underworld, that the story of Theo Decker remains bit of an excuse in the novel to keep the story going ahead. There is nothing in the story that will place it in a moment of time. Initially I thought that these were literary detours, well-crafted and well-researched vignettes, delicately put together to build the backdrop of the story. After all Donna Tartt is known to create male characters, with pithy psychological insghts into the character. It is not a Henry Jamesian kind of interior monologue. It is much more complicated than that, but at times I began to get a little stressed out with these vast passages, they seemed more self-indulgent than anything else.

In an interview with the Telegraph ( http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/books/10505597/Donna-Tartt-If-Im-not-working-Im-not-happy.html) she referred to the destruction of the sixth-century Buddhist carvings in Afghanistan by the Taliban. This incident gave her the idea of writing a story that connected terrorism with the destruction of art, merging it with the obsession a child has with a painting. The result more than a decade later was The Goldfinch.

An author friend remarked the other day, after having read a big fat book, the reader tends to be biased towards the novel. I beg to differ. I would like to say, I enjoyed the experience of reading The Goldfinch immensely, but it was hard not read it with a critical eye. Also this novel requires the reader to be in a time and mental space that is peaceful and tranquil, before being immersed in the story. Otherwise it will miss you completely. I had so many false starts to the novel. Finally I made it.

I was left asking “Is it a modern day version of Catcher in the Rye?” This is a book that is definitely not a bildungsroman. All said and done, this is a book to be read. I can quite understand why it won the Pulitzer or why it is being discussed so much.  It is original in its “content”. It opens new vistas that are beyond the familiar domain of contemporary literature — family, college, diaspora/immigrant fiction, WW1, bio-fic etc. The Goldfinch is a bit of art history + family drama + young adolescent.

Read it.

Donna Tartt The Goldfinch Little, Brown, London, 2013. Pb. Rs. 799. pgs 775

 

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