Every now and then a book comes out that creates a lot of excitement. It captures the popular imagination and everyone seems to be reading it. You hear about it from your friends, discuss it at dinner parties, read about it in the paper, and see it on the bestseller list. It is prominently placed in your local bookstore, that is...if they have any copies left. My neighborhood book store was recently sold out and had to order it for me. Two copies actually, as I gave one to my daughter for Christmas.
Right now that book is The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. I would say this book is the IT book of the new year. It actually came out in October of 2013, but right now there seems to be a huge buzz about it. In an amazing coincidence, the book's publication date in October fell on the same exact date that an Exhibition of Dutch paintings opened at The Frick Museum in New York. An exhibition that includes "The Goldfinch," a 1654 masterpiece by Carel Fabritius, the painting at the center of Donna Tartt's new novel. And if you are reading the book, you know how important the painting is to the plot of this novel. You can see why there would be a lot to talk about at your next book club or dinner party! And why there are record crowds at the Frick.
Have you read it? I am in the middle and have to resist moving beyond mid-point until after Wednesday night. That is when my book club is discussing the first half. Upon reflection, I think this was not such a great idea. Who knew this would be one of those books you can't put down? This is what happened -- when I suggested The Goldfinch as our next book club choice, I disclosed that the book is 800 pages long. Most of us didn't want to commit to reading an 800-page book in one month, so we decided to do it in parts. Little did we know that not finishing it would be so difficult! In fact, some of our members, unable to resist, have gone on to read it to the end, but have promised not to give anything away.
"The Goldfinch" painted in 1654 by Carel Fabritius
Currently being exhibited at The Frick Museum in New York
The book is about a young boy, the 13-year-old Theo, who one day ducks into the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York with his mother during a rain storm. The relationship with his mother is the most important one of his life, since his father left them a long time ago and he has no siblings. They wander around separately looking at art with a plan to meet shortly. An explosion occurs and, as Theo digs his way out of the rubble, he encounters an old man who begs him to save "The Goldfinch" from destruction and also gives him a gold ring which Theo is to to take to "Hobart and Blackwell. Ring the Green Bell." The old man dies and after Theo unsuccessfully searches for his mother, he leaves the museum with the painting and the ring and goes home to wait for her return.
The book takes off from this point and becomes almost impossible to put down. Theo's adventures begin. He is as alone and adrift as any of Dickens' most famous orphans, and in fact, the book has many characteristics of the great novels by Dickens. Like many of Dickens' characters, Theo is a child with no power at the mercy of the adults around him. He will have to deal with the bad and menacing ones, but also the good and kind ones, just as in any novel by Dickens. James Hobart, the former business partner of the dying man at the museum, is one of the good and kind ones. He runs an antiques restoration business and Theo becomes friends with him as well as an apprentice. Hobie is a Dickensian character in his goodness and eccentricity and the scenes in his workshop and home have a coziness and warm domesticity that appeal to Theo.
There is also a beautiful young woman, the granddaughter of the old man, whom Theo fleetingly gets to know and love, and from whom he is abruptly separated. This may be his Estella, though I am not far enough along to know. And then there is perhaps the most vivid character in the book: Boris, the young and wild Russian who becomes Theo's best friend and with whom he gets into a lot of trouble when he moves to Las Vegas to live with his unscrupulous father. Boris is one of those larger-than-life characters you will never forget. These two seriously neglected boys find solace in their friendship and have some incredible and raucous adventures together. In the meantime, Theo's father is up to no good and there is a menacing feeling to much of the Las Vegas section.
There is obviously so much more to come. In the first half of the book, the fact that Theo is still holding onto the precious painting never leaves the reader's mind and creates an ominous atmosphere that pervades everything. We can only wonder where it will take Theo. I will be anxious to pick up the book on Thursday so I can find out!
The novel has inspired record-breaking crowds at the Frick Museum in New York. There is another much more famous painting in this exhibition: Vermeer's "The Girl with the Pearl Earring." It even has its own room at the Frick. However, it turns out that "The Goldfinch" is the second most popular painting in this exhibition because of Donna Tartt's new book. Now if I could just figure out a way to get to New York before January 19th, when the show closes...I would love to know if you were able to see this exhibition. I am sure it was wonderful!