I started Donna Tartt‘s The goldfinch (2013) towards the end of June, on holiday. There was a hardback there where we were staying and it was urged on me. I got over half way but it was too big – 784 pages – for the suitcase so I didn’t bring it back with me. I bought the paperback – now ‘grown’ to 864 pages – but it just lay there on the Welsh dresser gathering dust while I caught up with other stuff (a book from a library waiting list, book group, real life). But when I picked it up again a couple of weeks ago it was like I’d never been away. Donna Tartt is one vivid writer. People, places and emotional spaces. I sped through. Fantastic book, glorious ending. Do not hesitate.
Terrorist bombing in a New York art gallery. 13-year-old Theo Decker’s bohemian single mum is killed, he gets out with a unique painting – the Dutch Master goldfinch of the title. He spends time with rich school buddy’s folks and meets an antique shop restorer and owner. I’ve already left one crucial romantic thread out. Legal stuff because of his age means he ends up with estranged father and moll on the desert fringes of a failed real estate venture on the outskirts of Vegas. Meets up with Russian kid Boris for a couple of years of slacker delinquency. Epic solo Greyhound bus ride back to NY with hidden dog. Makes a go of it with the antique dealer and meets up with the tragic rich kids’ family again. Dodgy antiques dealings, meets up with Boris again, now an international criminal. Mechanics of the stolen art market, In Bruges sort of happenings in Amsterdam. Back to NY eventually, surprise denouement, and aforementioned glorious soaring ending. By that time I think he’s reached his late 20s. Phew. And a whole lot more.
Dickensian for sure, but without the complex sentence structure, and cut with, I think it’s fair to say, a dash of modern world Ripley mode Patricia Highsmith. Great dialogue and, as I’ve said, incredibly vivid prose. The description of what happens in the explosion in the art gallery is just stunning. Here’s how vivid: there’s a passage where Theo tries to end it all (no great spoiler here, given he’s the narrator and there’s a way to go yet) with a combination of booze and drugs; while reading this I dozed off and spilt a cup of coffee in my lap. OK, I’d woken up way too early that day. But, trust me: she takes you there. Dramatic and contemplative, always a page turner, but still concerned with – well, basically – the human condition, the ambiguities of morality. Discussing events: “I think this goes more to the idea of ‘relentless irony’ than ‘divine providence’.” Relentless irony!
As regular readers here at Lillabullero will know, I’m likely to pepper you with quotes, tasters. I usually take the odd note as I read a book, but I soon realised with one like this life was too short. But as it happened I’d spent some time with a friend who had a black and white art print of an outtake from the photo sessions for the Freewheelin‘ cover about to go up on his wall and the fine passage that follows was on pretty much the first page I read in The goldfinch when I got back. Jungians like to call this sort of thing synchronicity though I’ll stick with happy coincidence. This is how Theo Decker was feeling one day as he walked the narrow streets of Greenwich Village:
… more than perfect [ …] the kind of winter where you want to be walking down a city street with your arm around a girl like on the old record cover – because Pippa was exactly that girl, not the prettiest but the no-makeup and kind of ordinary looking girl he’d chosen to be happy with, and in fact that picture was an ideal of happiness in its way, the hike of his shoulders and the slightly embarrassed quality of her smile, that open-ended look like they might just wander off anywhere they wanted together…
As usual, Edwards provides some neat touches, using ex-Lakes dweller Thomas de Quincey’s On murder considered as one of the fine arts as a prop, having Hannah’s mate Terri call her cat Morrissey, Hannah’s boss issuing “a suitably bland, reassuring and mendacious news release” to counter a rumour. I’ll give a hurrah, too, for Daniel’s visit to Keswick Museum & Art Gallery, too, with its musical stones; I hadn’t realised it had been closed for improvements and am delighted to learn it hasn’t lost its quirky old chamber of curiosities ambience. I suppose it is inevitable, more’s the pity, that police reorganisation is now pretty much a staple of British crime fiction. Nevertheless, I look forward to the next one with relish.
The Goldfinch: a slight return
This is not the first time goldfinches have featured here on Lillabullero. We’ve had plenty in our garden over the years – a ‘charm’ of goldfinches is the collective noun, and rightly so – and it’s good to know they are on the increase in the UK, one of the great recoveries. To think they used to be caught and caged. I was half expecting Donna Tartt to make a reference at some stage to Thomas Hardy‘s poem, A caged goldfinch, given her erudition, but no. Not that that’s a problem. Anyway, it’s a poem with an afterlife, a tale with a bite in its tail, that takes me back to a lecture theatre and the eccentric Englit scholar Roma Gill, when I was 18.
It refers back to a scene in one of his most miserable novels. The Mayor of Casterbridge I think. Here’s the poem as it first when first published. Just put ‘Hardy goldfinch’ into a search engine and more often than not it only has two verses:
Within a churchyard, on a recent grave, I saw a little cage That jailed a goldfinch. All was silence, save Its hops from stage to stage. There was inquiry in its wistful eye. And once it tried to sing; Of him or her who placed it there, and why. No one knew anything. True, a woman was found drowned the day ensuing. And some at times averred The grave to be her false one's, who when wooing Gave her the bird.
For the second time this year a gig in the stables yard at The Bull in Stony survived virtually unscathed in the face of the previous day’s doom laden weather forecasts. I have to admit partaking of 5 of the 6 beers available for the occasion meant I missed the last two bands; no stamina these days. Particularly liked the 3 Tuns’ 1642 and Liverpool Craft’s American Red, which exploded with flavours; chickened out of Crazy Days. Music was all good and strong too. Palmerston‘s original country rock material impressed again,while Glass Tears‘ take on Phil Collins’ In the air tonight (no, really) never ceases to move me, and there was a lot of fun and fine voice to be had from the Vaults mob one way or another, earlier.
The mighty Antipoet strung things together with their usual charm and wit, and peppered the day with a few of their own classic compositions (there’s plenty of examples in YouTube); with them there’s no danger of familiarity staling the palate. (And here’s a local nod to organiser Terri; Oakham’s Scarlet Macaw may have been on tap, but Red Phoenix was on the ball ‘backstage’).