Donna Tartt doesn’t publish novels often; she labours over her work for decades, leaving many with high expectations when they hear news of an impending release. Her debut novel, The Secret History, was impossible to put down, exploding onto the literary scene in 1992 with universal rave reviews and impressive sales that continued throughout the following decades. She left readers in anticipation for 10 years following that stellar debut, releasing The Little Friend in 2002, and we had to wait another decade, plus a little extra, for this latest work. The Goldfinch is a testament to the long labour that Tartt invests in her novels; it is a big read, unsurprisingly, but the narrative flies along effortlessly and the end result is rich and satisfying.
The Goldfinch tells the story of Theo Decker, who begins the novel in tragedy, having lost his mother in a disastrous explosion at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City. Taken in by a wealthy friend on Park Avenue, Theo begins a new life, all the while clinging to the talisman that he took away from the catastrophe that killed his mother; a small painting of Fabritius’ ‘Goldfinch’. The tragedy and intial focus of the novel, along with Tartt’s exploration of boyhood friendships, leads to easy comparisons with Dickens’ Great Expectations. The story has huge breadth geographically and emotionally, spanning from New York to Las Vegas to Amsterdam, giving it a more epic feel than Tartt’s previous work. The writer’s command of detail in her prose and nuance in her characters are on full display in The Goldfinch, which entertains without losing any intellectual depth in the process. Tartt’s sentences are beautifully composed; leading the reader to have little doubt that she could have spent 10 years putting this novel together. Although there are moments where the plot doesn’t feel quite perfect, this is ultimately a masterful and deeply impressive work of fiction. It’s just a shame to have to wait 10 years for the next.