The Goldfinch is my first experience reading Donna Tartt. The title refers to a painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius, the greatest Old Master you've never heard of-- Rembrandt's pupil, Vermeer's teacher. Fabritius was killed when a gunpowder explosion destroyed half the town of Delft and all but a handful of his paintings.
Theo Decker is 13 years old when he sees "The Goldfinch" in contemporary New York City. In fact, the same day he first sees the painting, he takes it as he escapes from the bombed museum where it had been exhibited.
Even though the painting plays a major role in the plot, the book becomes more about chance versus fate, and how minute decisions can change our life trajectory.
Take, for example, the circumstances that led Theo to the museum to begin with. A classmate is caught smoking and uses Theo as a scapegoat, causing him to be suspended from school. On the way to meet with the headmaster, Theo and his mother take a cab that reeks of dirty diaper, forcing an early exit near Central Park. While in Central Park, a rain storm forces them to take shelter in the nearby Met. While in the museum, the bomb explodes killing Theo's mother but only slightly injuring him. And a dying man's ramblings cause Theo to misunderstand and grab "The Goldfinch" painting as he finds his escape. Did all of this really happen because one boy didn't want to get in trouble for smoking?
Tartt's novel has been described as Dickensian, triumphant, a marvel with its elegant prose. It is a tome with 771 pages. And each should be thoughtfully savored.