January 2015 Club

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

I barely know where to start. This weighty tome took me two months to read – and even then I only managed just three-quarters of it before resorting to the audiobook to finish the rest in another nine hours or so, dyeing whilst listening. The words infiltrating the yarn.

And now that it’s over, I miss those characters, flawed as they are. That to me, is the sign of a good book. Many reviewers may not agree, and this novel certainly polarises opinion, but if you feel that you’ve “lived” through events with the characters and that they somehow touched your soul, then surely the book has been worthwhile and its existence justified.

The action centres on The Goldfinch masterpiece painting by Carel Fabritius of 1654, the year of the artist’s premature death in an explosion caused at a gunpowder factory in Delft. It depicts a dignified pet bird chained to a perch, never allowed to fly freely and live life as it was supposed to; in a constant state of suffering, with an innate desire that things could be different and putting up with its circumstances.

Not unlike Theo Decker, who at the age of 13, is caught up in a terrorist bomb attack at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Moments before he loses his beloved, beautiful mother in the blast, she had been telling him of the wonder of how works of art such as The Goldfinch survived through wars and fire. In the wreckage and confusion, a dying old man presses a gold ring into his hand with instructions to “ring the green bell” and in his delirium, urges him to save The Goldfinch painting.

Suffering from post-traumatic stress which never really leaves him, Theo is pretty much an orphan as his alcoholic, gambling father had run off leaving no contact details. He is taken in by the wealthy and slightly ethereal Park Avenue family of schoolfriend, Andy Barbour, but is never quite certain if he’s wholly welcome.

Theo spends a lot of his time trying to avoid, or not knowing what to say to, well-meaning counsellors and the rest of the time, he worries about what to do about the stolen painting. Eventually, he follows the trail of the gold ring to an old antiques and curiosities shop in downtown Manhattan, where he meets the kindly Hobie, business partner of Welty, the man who died in the explosion.

He later returns to learn the antiques trade with Hobie who become his benefactor, but not before he is whisked off to Las Vegas by his mysteriously reappearing father who seems suddenly interested in clearing out the apartment where Theo had lived with his mother.

In the vast expanse of desert, Theo lives a bleak life on the outskirts of the city where the streets are deserted and the houses are gradually being reclaimed by sand and the banks. His father lives with the coke-snorting, casino girl, Xandra in a vast soulless house and Theo is pretty much as neglected as Xandra’s Maltese dog, Popchik.

But Theo meets the exuberant Boris – a Russian national who travels around the world with his violent, alcoholic father – who basically changes the course of Theo’s life – from drug-fuelled days and nights of his youth, to becoming involved in a gunfight in Amsterdam many years later. Described by the author herself as being like the Artful Dodger, his character and intonation of language leaps off the page. And I’m sure it is his character, the fact that Theo becomes an orphan and the sheer length of the novel that have led to so many Dickensian comparisons.

Donna Tartt paints the lives of these characters in intimate detail. So much so, that I found myself surprised on some occasions, when a new detail about Theo emerges suddenly – such as when we find out he’s been visiting a drug dealer back in New York for several years. I felt a bit like his mother thinking “Why didn’t I know this about him?” I found myself getting so annoyed with the previously loveable Boris for taking Theo – or “Potter” as he calls him – for a ride and being a totally unreliable friend, until he proves himself otherwise. I got mad at Theo for lying to Hobie, who was nothing but sweet and trusting to him. And most of all, I just wanted Pippa to love Theo back.

Total involvement with the characters, and the Keatsian musings on beauty, truth and art means that this book lives on in my heart.

Colourway inspiration


Although there was much colour inspiration within the pages, I thought that this time, the key was to keep it simple, like the painting itself.

So for the semi-solid colourway, I opted for an intense gold, not too yellow I hope, to convey an antique, aged effect – like the brushstrokes on underside of the wing in the painting. These skeins were double or triple dyed and simply named The Goldfinch (semi-solid)

For the variegated colourway, I took the gold and added yellow, deep red, dark brown, charcoal and the blue-grey of the perch and randomly dyed them onto the white silk/merino Lustrous base, leaving some undyed creamy white areas mixed with a pale rye colour to represent the background. These skeins are called The Goldfinch (variegated).