Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch

It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don't know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.
As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.
The Goldfinch combines vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher's calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

Comment: To be honest, I never thought about this book as something I'd want to read. But I saw it at my local library and since I would certainly not buy it, I could have the chance to see what made so many readers talk about it, especially in 2013, when this was published.
However, the story despite being interesting, was not enough to make me feel sympathetic to what was going on with the main character...

In this huge book (practically 900 pages in my edition) we follow Theo, a 13 year old boy who sees himself in a situation no one would ever think about and his mother, sadly, dies as a result of an attack in a museum. His life is shaped out of hand from that moment on and the one thing that connects him to this episode and the memories and feelings associated with it, is a painting, "The Goldfinch" by Carel Fabritius. 
After the attack, Theo is in one of the galleries looking for his mother when he helps an old man and ends up being with him when he passes. He keeps a ring given to him by that man, which will later take him to a person who helps Theo but he also keeps the painting, having somewhat personal reasons for it. 
But as Theo's life starts to spiral out of control, attaching himself to what the painting means can prove to have been a mistake...

I must say the first 200 pages or so were divine. The book is divided into five major parts, each focused on a stage of Theo's life and the first is definitely the best, both in plot and in writing. I really, really wanted Theo to deal well with what happened and, most important, at that time he was surrounded by people who wished him well and were part of his recovery process, which would certainly help. 
I imagined a coming of age story about Theo and those he cared about and how he would deal with having the painting and the need to be himself after a tragic event such as losing the mother he loved. 
I also created scenarios in my head about what Theo would do and how his character would be but yet I can't accept the path the author chose for him. No.

Basically, this book is about Theo's choices. Theo is the central character, he is the narrator and he is deeply affected by his mother's death. The painting works as an almost sort of match to his reality: he is like the goldfinch in the painting, shackled to something he can't escape but still letting him exist. I suppose, in a way, we are meant to see the similarities and realize Theo was stuck in a cycle that started by having lost his biggest support system.


However, I ended up so terribly disappointed because Theo is not a stupid boy. He is young but he is not an idiot. He isn't unaware of reality. He might have lost his mother and might have been taken by a friend's family because his close family didn't want him but he isn't out of reality. He is quite clever in his speech and he does manage to process things around him well. He understands taking the painting wasn't right. He understands finding Hobie, a man who helps him, was a good thing. He understands his friend's family didn't have to but still welcomed him. He was and talked and acted as a stable human person, despite his loss. A loss that countless people in the whole world go through, sadly, as well so Theo isn't different from other people simply because of his mothers' death
But he is young, so he was bound to make mistakes. I can understand why seeing his father again, the man who had issues and abandoned him and his mother, was a shock and even more so when he took Theo to live with him and his girlfriend all the way from New York to Las Vegas. In there, his life changes completely first because he meets Boris, a student at his school and then because they start on a self- destructive path.

What I simply cannot accept as the way for things to go was for Theo to become a drug addict and a jerk and a person who sacrifices his intelligence for silly adventures he is definitely cognizant of as being something wrong. At some point he does even say he doesn't know how he went from a recognized merit student to being part of the lost cases at his new school. I just can't accept that someone will knowingly and consciously choose drugs. Yes, he was young but all in his mind and behavior process wouldn't lead him there. He was sad so he joined a loser and did drugs? I just cannot accept that.

Therefore, this book was sort of a huge let down. Theo grows up, he was still a junkie, eventually he gets out of them only to meet his childhood friend Boris again, the guy who "helped" him at the critical point he decided to do drugs and he goes back to it. There are more (mostly negative) things happening around Theo, things I can rationalize as having affected Theo's decision making and it does seem everything around him was conspiring to make him lose his mind and become more and more stressed and not able to solve his issues properly.
Theo was not dumb, he was clever, he just didn't act on things in a way I think would have been the "right" one for the matters at hand. He chose, it was not Fate deciding for him.

Towards the end, Theo sees himself in a dire situation, and he does have negative thoughts about how things might happen if only he wasn't there. He decides to make things right at last but in the crucial moment he does not. Once again, Boris shows up and personifies the problem solving somehow and Theo's actions lose power and focus and change again
I didn't like this much and all the conversations about art and philosophy don't seem relevant, considering Theo just chose to use his free will to lead him to negative paths. He must be dumb after all.

All things considered, I regret all the worries I had reading, I hate that Theo didn't embark on a more magical/special/extraordinary self worth journey instead of the realistic, yes but also cynical and too adverse life situations he went through. Isn't life supposed to teach you things and to make you want to improve and become a better person? I hated that Theo didn't think that among all the specific philosophies he talked about, not even at the end.
Grade: 4/10

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