|Photo from CBS News|
|Line outside the Frick. Photo by Christian Johnston|
The painter Fabritius died in an explosion that leveled a quarter of the Dutch city of Delft in 1654, when the artist was only 32 years old. His studio and most of his work was destroyed, although this tiny tromp l'oeil painting of a chained bird managed to survive the disaster with minimal damage. I wish I could have seen The Goldfinch when it was in the US, but instead I read the eponymous book.
The painting is the fulcrum of Donna Tartt's book, in which it survives another awful explosion and is taken from the surreal rubble by the book's dazed 13-year-old protagonist Theo. I couldn't resist wanting to read this novel, which sounded like a combination of art-crime and a coming-of-age story.
Be warned: the painting of a small bird chained to a shelf should be your first clue... The Goldfinch is not a fun and easy read. It's kind of like watching a Coen brothers movie: you can't look away and you keep hoping that the hapless characters will stop their downward spiral of terrible ideas. There is a desolate, feral quality to poor Theo's teen years, and there are lots and lots of drugs. Just when a character seems ready to fly free, he's yanked back to reality, kind of like that poor little bird. Tough stuff, and not to everybody's taste. Yet...I kept reading. Nobody in this book is perfect, but just when you think a character is a total loser, he/she does something or says something redeeming. There is dark humor. Theo and his Ukranian friend Boris get mixed up in international crime, but you never stop hoping they'll come out okay.
This is a post 9-11 book with the main questions spelled out in the end. As Boris says:
...good doesn't always follow from good deeds, nor bad deeds result from good, does it? Even the wise and good cannot see the end of all actions.
I wish I could tell you how the book ends, but that would be a mistake. You should read it. You won't love most of what happens, but it is a good book.
|At the recent Dutch Painting exhibit, Frick Museum, New York. Photo by Karstan Moran for the NYT|
I'm out of town for a few days, but when I come back I'll want to catch up on the other book reviews at Armchair Squid.