The story follows Theo Decker from the age of thirteen until early adulthood through a series of gripping life events. From drugs to art theft, from an alcoholic father to troublesome friends, all of Theo’s misadventures stem from one huge loss, that of his mother. Following this loss, Theo’s life spirals into crime, lies, and forced smiles. What Theo goes through is extraordinary, but it is grounded in the universal human experience of grief.
Tartt introduces us to a flock of strange and unique characters. Her characterization is masterful, particularly of Theo’s best friend, Boris, and his father’s girlfriend, Xandra. These characters are so vividly portrayed that you can almost feel them standing next you. Even the most minor passers-by are striking, from Goldie the doorman to the mother’s lawyer. Theo takes on the role of writer and observer as he explains: “I was fascinated by strangers, wanted to know what food they ate… Often I saw people on the street and thought about them restlessly for days.” Through Theo, Tartt emphasises the power of individuality.
At times this book is laugh-out-loud funny, at others tear-jerking. Though Theo grows into a person far different from the boy we first met, he remains caught in that moment of loss. Tartt raises the question — how different could things be? Are we victims of circumstance or do we shape our own destinies?
The film of The Goldfinch, starring Ansel Elgort as Theo, will be in cinemas this autumn — I can’t wait to see how this book is transformed on the silver screen.