read by David Pittu
This book was on at least one list as a favorite book club read for 2013, and then it won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2014, so when I saw the audiobook was available at my local public library, I had to listen.
The size of the book is a bit daunting. There are 26 discs in the CD version (and for me, that meant 26 days of listening, as I can get through a disc a day on my commute), and the print version is almost 800 pages. That along might discourage some discussion groups (including my two). The length is due to extensive descriptions by Tartt. Some of it is excessive and could have been cut, but I feel much of it contributes to the atmosphere of the setting and the richness of the characters.
Despite the length, I am glad I read this book - or rather, listened to it, as the narrator, actor David Pittu, is outstanding. I'm not surprised that his performance earned the 2014 Audie Awards for Literary Fiction and Male Solo Performance. He made what could have been a tedious book more bearable.
The book starts out at Christmas in Amsterdam, and Theo Decker is feeling desperate. The story soon moves back fourteen years to New York City, when Theo is the thirteen-year-old son of the divorced Audrey Decker. Theo gets in trouble at his private school, and he and his mother are on the way to a conference with the principal, when a sudden rainstorm sends them into a museum. They briefly separate, and then there is an explosion, and Audrey is killed. Theo is unhurt, but dazed and confused. He speaks with an old man named Welty who is badly injured and dying. Welty gives him a ring and an address, and points to a painting on the wall. Theo thinks Welty wants him to take it, perhaps to protect it, so he does.
The painting is The Goldfinch (1654, pictured at left), a real painting by Carel Fabritius (1622–1654), a Dutch artist. The masterpiece has never really been stolen, but its small size (13 inches by 9 inches) makes it easy to imagine it stolen.
From this point, Theo (and the painting) go on quite an adventure, going from New York to Las Vegas and back to New York, and ultimately back to the "present" in Amsterdam where the story's climax is reached.
Donna Tartt's wordsmithing (and Pittu's delivery) kept me going through this book, even when it slowed or bogged down with too much detail. The characters are memorable, especially Theo's Las Vegas childhood friend Boris, a Russian/Ukrainian who, like Theo, is also growing up mostly alone, with an absentee father.
For me, what was most compelling about this book was Theo's grief and guilt at the loss of his mother. He felt he was somehow to blame for her death, and that colors much of the rest of his life, and the often poor decisions he made. I had to keep listening to this book just to find out what happened to him.
© Amanda Pape - 2014
[This audiobook was borrowed from and returned to my local public library.]