Carel Fabritius was a Dutch painter from Delft (same origin as Vermeer). He lived during the mid-1600s, was an extremely talented student of Rembrandt. He died when he was young in a gunpowder magazine explosion, which also destroyed many of his paintings. The Goldfinch is unique amidst Fabritius’ oeuvre. It captures a living animal, as opposed to a portrait of a single human or a biblical scene. The bird is bathed in a very delicate light, perched upon a box and tethered to the wall indoors by a thin chain. The painting itself is physically very small, only about 13x9 inches, with rough brushstrokes only purportedly noticed when the viewer is close.
There are a number of links that can arguably be made between the main character and this painting. Firstly, the explosion that kills Fabritius himself and destroys most of his work parallels the terrorist attack that Theo experiences. One might even argue that what is left of Theo’s psyche after that day is somewhat like the bird, imprisoned and chained to a bleak and undefined landscape. We could even say, perhaps, that the way other characters see Theo is like observers view The Goldfinch, from afar, he is composed and complete, but up close just a mess of emotions and experiences.
The second aspect was the ending, which was not with a bang or a nice little knot, but more of a whisper. There is a surprising lack of resolution for a story that seemed to build to so much. Maybe we can chalk all that up to the post-9/11, ego-centric, and zombified reality that Tartt has created, a neat ending just would not fit in this world. I didn't feel like this story needed the massive zoom-out that it had before concluding, the rehash of Fabritius, the reason for the penning of the tale, Theo's ponderings on what having written all this down will mean. To me, it felt a little like that section of Atlas Shrugged where you just keep waiting for the author to get back to the story and stop yammering on about this other stuff.
Putting all that aside, if you’re a Donna Tartt fan, of course don’t pass this up. I haven't read her other two novels in quite some time, so I can't pass judgement on how this one stacks up in comparison. If you've never read her, well, I might recommend starting at the beginning, with The Secret History and savoring over all three. This is an author who has published once every 10 years, and each novel has some heft, but the stories all move quickly. You have to like dark motifs and twisted occurrences though, so if that’s not your cup of tea, you should probably run in the other direction.