Finally finished The Goldfinch yesterday afternoon and I’ve been resetting my brain by playing solitaire ever since. No, not the whole time. This book was a roller coaster—it made me feel almost every emotion I can think of at one point or another throughout its seven hundred seventy one pages. But it went pretty darn fast for that number of pages, and I did enjoy it, even when I was thinking that Theo Decker deserved to be shot on the street in Amsterdam by a bunch of drugged out thugs. But more on that later.
When last I spoke of Theo, he was in the midst of drama: drug drama, fake furniture drama, that sort of thing. He tries to clean up his act a bit, and takes up with the youngest of the Barbour family (you remember them, the rich family who takes care of him right after his mom dies), Kitsey. They get engaged, Theo gets off the pills, he comes clean to Hobie about the fake furniture sales, sort of. He admits to having done it a few times, but not as many or for as much money as is actually the case. And then, who turns up? Freaking Boris. Boris and a big bag of cocaine. And a bunch of Russian gangsters. Bethany said that you know there’s going to be trouble when Russian gangsters show up in a novel. I think that there may be a PhD dissertation in that statement somewhere, but I’m not going to write it. So, after a night of debauchery around Manhattan with Boris, Theo learns that there’s a very good reason why Lucius Reeve thinks Theo and Hobie are renting out The Goldfinch. Because Boris actually is, and he’s lost track of it somehow. Turns out that back in Vegas, Theo was fond of blacking out when drinking, and at one point he showed Boris the painting. Boris takes it, and before he can give it back, Theo’s taken off back to New York. So what does Boris do? Well, I’m not sure, exactly. Boris’s resume is kept very vague, but essentially he uses the painting to make a lot of money, but he knows he needs to get it back, for Theo. Because he may be a Russian gangster, but what are Russian gangsters if not loyal to their childhood friends? Boris and his people track the painting to Amsterdam, and hatch this elaborate plan to get it back. For some reason, Theo needs to be involved. The plan goes sideways, like all plans to steal stolen paintings tend to do, and that’s how Theo ends up in the hotel in Amsterdam. I’ll leave the rest for you guys to read. Does everyone remember how The Return of the King was essentially finished about a hundred pages before it finally ended? That’s how The Goldfinch was too. I didn’t mind reading Theo’s philosophizing about his life, and explaining how he has kept journals his whole life and that’s how he remembers so many details of conversations and things, but it may not have needed to go on for quite so long.
By the end, Theo has redeemed himself in my eyes, though I’m not sure how long he’s going to manage to stay on the straight and narrow. I doubt we’ll see any more of him (Tartt isn’t really the sequel-writing type), so I’m just going to have to hope he stays out of trouble.
I guess that’s really all I have to say about The Goldfinch. It is a memorable book, and an excellent one. I recommend it, though possibly people who lack a morbid fascination with the world of antiques fraud and drug addiction may not enjoy it as much as I did. Even I found some of the more detailed drug stuff uncomfortable to read, such as when Boris and Theo go to visit someone who may have a line on the painting, and stumble into some sort of heroin den, complete with an OD-ing college kid. I was half expecting Theo to have to stab the kid in the heart with epinephrine, a la John Travolta in Pulp Fiction, but thankfully Tartt didn’t go there. The trip to Amsterdam I could have done without—Theo is holed up in that hotel for what feels like a few months, even though it turns out it’s only a week. But generally, yes, this was an amazing book. Perfect, no. Flawed, yes. But definitely worth reading.