The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt: Beauty of Music, Art & Life

The Goldfinch by Tartt: classical music, art and beauty
The Goldfinch: a novel of great art and beauty

For some reason, over the last few months I’d been thinking of The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt as a book quite like The Luminaries, although after finishing both I’ve realised that it must just be because they’re long and were released around the same time.

The Goldfinch is really quite superb, and I can’t say I got at all bored by it, despite it being 771 pages long as hardback. The novel covers enormous ground, with protagonist Theo Decker a young boy in New York City who miraculously survives an accident that throws him out all comfort zones and head first into the art underworld.

Determined to avoid orphanhood at the hands of the state, Theo goes from the homes of friends to new cities and even to acquaintances made under the most unusual of circumstances.

It’s a story of growing up, led by the differentiation between right and wrong, but to me it was primarily a tale of beauty. I’ll mention now that I googled the theme of beauty while reading the book, and Belleza’s wonderful post came up – I’d recommend you give it a read!

The beauty of art, music and life in The Goldfinch

Art

Art carries the novel from the very start right up until its conclusion. The title of the novel comes from Carel Fabritius’s 1654 painting of the same name, and Theo Decker is surrounded by this painting and other masterpieces as he suffers his childhood trauma.

The Goldfinch is a novel of beauty preserved, destroyed, and often not quite regained (it’s interesting to consider Hobie, a character that alone makes the book a must-read, in light of this) and it was a pleasure to enjoy the world created by Tartt.

Classical music

As well as art there’s the centrality of music, a theme that surrounds probably my favourite character of the book, Pippa. A redheaded, quirky girl of around Theo’s age who reminded me of myself at times, Pippa is shaped by an interesting dualism that pulls her close to, yet impossibly apart from, Theo.

While Theo falls into drugs, drinking and unimaginable lows, Pippa uses the classical music of Arvo Pärt, Giovanni Pierlugi da Palestrina and others to bring her back into the present and out of her head. I’d recommend giving Spiegel im Spiegel by Pärt a listen, particularly if you’re in need of quietening your thoughts.

Other readers may see her using music as an escape, but to me it seemed like the reverse. Floating through life with the PTSD that both she and Theo face, music was what I felt defined her and made her seem real. I’ve written a lot about my own Post Traumatic Stress, and the coping mechanisms in this book were both fascinating and very much real.

Beauty of love and life

Theo destroys himself while Pippa seeks beauty, yet these roles reverse at times throughout the novel. Pippa and Theo seem closest when music is between them, and I lost count of the times Pippa scrolls through Theo’s iPod (often commenting on the lack of the music she finds most beautiful).

*Possible spoilers!*
I felt that Theo and Pippa simply had to be together (I’m sure I’m not alone on this), yet both author and protagonist eventually convince us that this can never be the case. Their relationship is perfect yet impossible, and creating this with words is probably what I’d most like to applaud Donna Tartt for.

An emphasis on beauty runs throughout the novel, even when – or especially when – it seems to be absent. Tartt lapses into almost excessive philosophising towards the novel’s end, but her exploration of beauty is the main reason why I’d love for you all to give the novel a go too.

I could write for hours on The Goldfinch, and I imagine that universities are already adding this to their literature modules, for good reason. However, I hope readers will be able to pick it up and not have the experience tainted by academia. It’s a novel of such complexity and beauty, and sometimes it’s better just to keep such a novel hidden inside rather than analysing and picking it all apart.

Over and over I played her favorite Arvo Pärt, as a way of being with her; and she only had to mention a recently read novel for me to grab it up hungrily, to be inside her thoughts, a kind of telepathy. (p463)

Just to let you know, I’ll be posting tomorrow about my new bibliotherapy site, so keep your eyes peeled!

Lucy
It's good to meet you! I started Tolstoy Therapy back in 2012 to share my healing journey through anxiety and PTSD with books. I also climb mountains, go on solo adventures, and write over at livewildly.co.