Carel Fabritius, The Goldfinch, 1654, oil on panel, 13.2” x 9”, Mauritshuis, The Hague, Photo by The Yorck Project: 10.000 Meisterwerke der Malerei via Wikimedia Commons, artwork in the Public Domain.

Make the Time: “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt

Art lovers should read Donna Tartt’s novel The Goldfinch, named for a 17th–century painting featured in the book, not to learn more about the work of art’s historical significance and the circumstances of its production, but rather its quasi-mystical and affective powers as it determines the trajectory of the young life of the main protagonist, Theo Decker.

At the beginning of the story, we meet Theo Decker who survives a terrorist attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and ends up walking out of the smoke and rubble with Carel Fabritus’ The Goldfinch (1645) under his arm.  The remainder of the story chronicles the boy’s life through his late twenties and all that seems destined after that initial, tragic event.

Tartt eloquently describes the allure of Fabritus’ painting at length, using the voice of three different characters, each to describe in their own way how such an image elicits a viewer response that transcends the boundaries of time and reality.  Art lovers also can indulge in Tartt’s detailed description of an antique shop and its contents that figures prominently within the narrative.

The Goldfinch has a compelling plot that moves quickly with more than a couple of surprising turns.  The characters are satisfyingly complex as Tartt explores the different types of friendships and love affairs between them in a way that is not predictable, yet reveals a true understanding of human nature.

The Art Minute highly recommends The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.