Saturday, May 11, 2019

Donna Tart, "The Goldfinch"

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (2013) is an over-the-top novel full of obsession and strong emotion, aimed I think mainly at readers under 30. It slides along the edge of madness through a plot that features art theft, antiques fraud, terrorism, death, misery, and young people on the edge of suicide who survive by doing staggering quantities of drugs. I found parts tedious -- I can only take so much stoned whining. But at another level The Goldfinch is a profound meditation on art, beauty, personality, and fate, and some of this speculative writing blew me away.
How do we know what's right for us? Every shrink, every career counselor, every Disney princess knows the answer: "follow your heart."

Only here's what I really, really want someone to explain to me. What if one happens to be possessed of a heart that can't be trusted? What if the heart, for its own unfathomable reasons, leads one willfully and in a cloud of unspeakable radiance away from health, domesticity, civic responsibility and strong social connections and all the blandly held common virtues and instead straight towards a beautiful flare of ruin, self-immolation, disaster? If your deepest self is singing and coaxing you straight toward the bonfire, is it better to turn away? Stop your ears with wax? Ignore all the perverse glory your heart is screaming at you? Set yourself on the course that will lead you dutifully towards the norm, reasonable hours and regular medical check-ups, stable relationships and steady career advancement, the New York Times and brunch on Sunday, all with the promise of being somehow a better person? Or is it better to throw yourself head first and laughing into the holy rage calling your name?

It's not about outward appearances but inward significance. A grandeur in the world, but not of the world, a grandeur that the world doesn't understand. That first glimpse of pure otherness, in whose presence you bloom out and out and out.
A self one does not want. A heart one cannot help.

1 comment:

Shadow said...

The first section of the book was very powerful and well done. I was mesmerized. By the end of the second section I was pulling hair out screaming "when will we ever leave Vegas!!!!" If we had spent one more day in Vegas I would still see the book imprint on my wall. That's how the book went for me, section by section, back and forth, back and forth. And the story didn't go in the direction I wanted. I wanted the protagonist and the young girl who survived the explosion to spend more time together sharing each others' psyches working though the pain together. Instead I got an international criminal enterprise made up of semi-professional thugs, thieves, and scoundrels. Poor me.

I saw very little of what you saw in it. I thought this was about psychic pain and the vast spaces of emptiness unexpected losses can create; and not about life's choices, which the pain and loss pretty much impelled them to make.