I have just put down Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch having read the final 50 pages in one sitting of constant wrestling between competing desires: to speed through to its conclusion, and to savour its every last word. The final chapters have left me a little stunned, entirely in awe of how sublimely they are written, and—not to put too fine a point on it—elated; glad simply to have been so touched by a work of art.
The final moments of Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding (2011) had a similar emotional upswing that quite literally sent a shiver up my spine, but Tartt’s execution is more sustained. At the end of her 850 page novel she’s bold enough to have her narrator elucidate the emotional truth of the narrative, and somehow it not only works but is thrilling in a way it has no right to be. It’s a trick only a writer of Tartt’s talent could even consider attempting, the poor execution of which would undermine all that had come before. The effect of its resounding success is to leave the reader feeling as though they have been struck like a bell - something of the work itself vibrating out and through them. Personally I don’t think I’ve felt that upon completing a novel since I first read Michael Ondaatje’s In the Skin of a Lion.
I can’t recommend The Goldfinch strongly enough. Read it around Christmas when some of its most important passages are set, when the evenings have grown short and it’s snowing outside. See if there isn’t something there that will be a light and a warmth to you.
NB. Five years after this original post, I selected The Goldfinch as the subject of