Why all great stories, when put to words, are so sad in nature? It will be a massive understatement, if this thought comes to mind when one finishes this novel. Written unrestrictedly by its author, Donna Tartt, this piece of fiction won her Pulitzer in the year 2014. The story, all 869 pages of it, has all the emotions ranging right from loss, grief, friendship, escape, love, betrayal to redemption and hooliganism, with a hint of much awaited renaissance at the end.
It begins with the older version of the main character Theo Decker, introducing his younger self in first person, a thirteen year old wallflower. After his father (unsurprisingly) left him untended, he has no one but his mother to look up to, whom he loved dearly and had not once imagined what his life will be like if he ever lost her. But fate, if nothing else, is random. What happens when guilt consumes one for the tragedy of the person they loved the most? Ultimate chaos is the answer!
After a few days of his mother’s death, he is led to an old furniture shop owned by a kind, middle-aged man, Hobie. Meanwhile, he is ‘adopted’ by his wealthy friend’s parents (the Barbours) who have helluva problems of their own. And midst this mess, his father, considerably a ‘changed man’, shows up to own up his parental responsibilities, along with his new girlfriend with whom he stays in Las Vegas. His father, he later realizes, makes his livelihood through gambling; which doesn’t matter much to Theo as long as he gets to splash his money, along with his Ukrainian school friend, Boris, on alcohol and illegal drugs.
Later, an unpredictable situation forces Theo to escape Vegas and come back to Hobie where he stays till his present age, and starts working for him as a salesperson in his shop. He also helps him pay off his debts, which Hobie credits to his ‘superior persuading power’, and that obviously is not the case as tricking people into buying fakes of famous artifacts doesn’t come under the label of legitimate salesmanship. A ‘customer’, who comes to know of his tricks, starts to blackmail Theo. Later, he realizes that the blackmailer has something else in mind, which Theo has held on for a long time.
Now the nucleus of the story is a precious painting- ‘The Goldfinch’ by Carel Fabritius, which Theo ‘took’ from the museum where his mother died. Normally, we would label him as a pathetic juvenile thief, but the painting was one of his mother’s favorite, and the reason he illegally held on to it for so many years was not the whooping zillions it was worth (which as a matter of fact, he wasn’t even aware of), but because he considered that 13 by 9 inches painting as a thread to her mother’s optimistic soul, a reminder of her undying love, a souvenir of her existence.
The novel, described “astonishing” by ‘the Guardian’, ends with a great climax with Theo striving to make all the things right, at which he went astray. He realizes the meaning of life (‘a catastrophe’) and asks a question, “Is co-incidence God’s way of remaining anonymous?” This question is left with no sane answer.
The novel has all the elements, that’ll in the end, leave you looking for a highlighter. The first half is slow paced and deals with loss, love-at-first-sight and chaos. The second half engulfs the reader in the new world that Theo creates for himself which is, in and out, a delusion. All in all, if one is up for a strenuous ride of such sad story, with a shocking and beautiful revelation at the end, this classic is a must read.
As Theo puts it, “We can’t choose what we want and that’s the hard lonely truth. We can’t escape who we are.” And he will make sure that you feel what it means to be a free bird, in chains.
About The Author
A social recluse. Soldier of fiction. Soliloquist. Either silent or sarcastic. Possesses no interesting version of ESP, but likes to think she has the same glasses as Harry Hart.