Book Review by Roy E. Perry: “The Goldfinch” by Donna Tartt


Donna Louise Tartt’s The Goldfinch won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The judges described this 771-page novel, which took Tartt eleven years to write, as “a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters.”

At the heart of Tartt’s novel is an eponymous painting, “The Goldfinch” (oil on canvas, 1654) by Carel Fabritius (1622-1654). This Dutch masterpiece, which shows a goldfinch tethered to its perch by a chain on its ankle, is now worth millions of dollars. Shortly after he completed the painting, Fabritius was killed in an explosion in a powder factory in the city of Delft, the Netherlands.

Flash forward three and a half centuries . . . Another explosion destroys a large section of New York City’s MetropolitanArt museum, killing the mother of thirteen-year-old Theo Decker. Traumatized by the death of his mother, whom he dearly loved and who dearly loved him, Theo staggers through the fire and smoke, chaos and debris, of the shattered building, but not before a mortally wounded antiques dealer places in his hands an expensive ring and the rare, world-class museum piece, “The Goldfinch.”

A central theme of this novel is an oxymoronic concept: “the randomness of fate.” An accidental 17th-century “cause” has uncanny connections with 21st-century “effects.” Chance occurrences shape one’s destiny. The story moves from New York City, to Las Vegas, back to New York City, and on to Amsterdam. Haunted by memories of his mother, Theo becomes—as an art thief, in danger of prison—a fugitive, seeking to elude Interpol. Moreover, his life is threatened by minions of the criminal underworld peopled by art thieves and drug dealers.

Theo develops a dark, nihilistic perspective of life: “an unsettling sense of transience and doom”; “the absurdity of human affairs”; “groundlessness and flux, nothing to hang on to”; “chaos and uncertainty of the world we live in”; “the darkness of nothingness.” “All human activity seemed pointless, incomprehensible, some blackly swarming ant hill in the wilderness. . . . For humans—trapped in biology—there was no mercy: we lived for a while, we fussed around for a bit and died, we rotted in the ground like garbage. Time destroyed us all soon enough.”

For readers with a philosophical bent, The Goldfinch provides many such metaphysical and existential musings. Donna Tartt is not only a high-echelon literary artist and stylist, but also a provocative philosopher and psychologist. She challenges us to ponder questions such as: (1) Do our lives, and the existence of the universe, have any pattern, plan, meaning, purpose, or goal? (2) Are truth, goodness, and beauty merely relative—artificial, arbitrary prejudices constructed by our own conceits? Apparently, the answer to the first question is no; the answer to the second question is yes. It’s a gloomy world-view: Life is short. Death is sure. Period.

How can one cope with, and overcome, such debilitating nihilism? What antidote can be found for such skeptical doubt and pessimistic despair? Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch suggests Nietzsche’s answer: “It is only as an aesthetic phenomenon that existence and the world are eternally justified. We have art in order not to die from the truth.”

For other book reviews by Roy E. Perry, please visit:

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter,” both now available at and Dave is also a freelance book editor, publicist, seminar and workshop leader, journalist, and advertising / marketing / public relations writer.

Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville by Dave Carew—which was praised by The Tennessean as “beautiful, haunting, powerful”—is now available in an all-new paperback edition. For more information, please visit:

Do you want to help homeless people in Nashville learn culinary arts and other employment skills that provide a specific, effective path off the streets? Please visit (link below) and consider making a financial contribution. Any amount is very helpful and appreciated. Thank you.


Editor’s Note: “Underground Nashville” covers artists, authors, musicians, poets, political figures, and other compelling people and happenings not typically covered by the mainstream Nashville media. It also presents reflections and commentary from an underground/indie perspective, offering “thoughts from the shadows of a great American city.”

Dave Carew





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: