This is such a fantastically enticing novel that halfway through I started to worry that I might just finish it too soon if I’m not careful, so instead of continuing, I decided to pursue a whole array of (half-)substitute activities – I went to the movies, finished two other books, went rollerskating, and so on – just so that the moment when I reach the end might come as late as possible. (If I want to perfectly honest, I first started to worry somewhere around page 10, but the danger didn’t seem that imminent then, given that I still had 760 pages to go.)
But after a while I couldn’t put off finishing it any longer, and the self-denial of the previous days took its vengeance: I read the remaining half in two endless reading sessions. This is not the most perfect way to put it, though – it implies effort and suffering, when reading this novel is, in fact, the exact opposite of that. Pure joy and bliss. And what I didn’t experience when I read Tartt’s The Secret History a couple of years back – the most welcome feeling of forgetting myself – now I got this, too.
This complete relinquishing of the self for the time of reading, this most basic, most urgent curiosity (and then what happened? And what happened after that?), this feeling that I want to learn and know everything: all the streets of New York where the protagonist walks; all the pieces of furniture he touches; the deserts of Las Vegas he inhabits; the feverish cold he lives through; that certain magical bench in Central Park; love’s red hair and thousand-colored scarves; the feeling of walking through icy puddles in soaked-through shoes in Amsterdam around Christmas; the self-destructive, murderous anger, doubt, and remorse of the protagonist. Everything.
I think such strong desire to know absolutely everything is only possible while reading fiction – and what luck that in this novel, we get to know almost everything.
Because this is a slow story, one in which there’s time for events to unfold, for the characters to grow up, and also for them to just fool around sometimes and not move the story forward at all – and when there was a couple of weeks’ or years’ worth of jump ahead in the story, I was almost disappointed because I would have preferred to know even those things that happened in the periods not covered.
So what’s this novel about? As far as I’m concerned, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s written so beautifully and precisely, with such perception and strength that it could be about anything, and I would enjoy it.
But anyway: it’s about Theo Decker, a screwed-up, drug-addicted young man suffering both from PTSD and from a hopeless love towards a miraculous, elusive girl. From the (very long) back-story we learn that Theo loses his mother in tragic circumstances when he’s still a child, and in connection with his mother’s death, he acquires a world-famous painting (this is the Goldfinch), which in turn becomes the most important object in his life.
That piece of art, beauty, reality, purity and bliss to which he can always return. That object he can think about in times of distress because even the thought of its existence is enough to fill his life with something other than pure terror and anxiety.
One of the chapters opens with a quote from Nietzsche: „We have art in order not to die from the truth.” And if I wanted to simplify it, I could say that this whole novel is a beautiful and heart-wrenching illustration of this sentence.