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Literary Events

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Story Brings an Old Painting to New Life

The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt, was my favorite novel of the last few years! I found the characters to be realistic, the writing to be smooth, the action to be exciting, the issues to be deep, and the story to be compelling and touching. I had so many emotional reactions to the characters, their predicaments, and the story line while reading The Goldfinch, that to start the discussion, I asked everyone to express the thoughts and/or feelings they noticed while reading the book. We never did get a count as to how many Book Club members "liked" The Goldfinch. The discussion seemed to indicate a spread of opinions. Several loved the book, some had dispassionate criticisms or analyses of the book, and some didn't finish the book and didn't seem inclined to finish.

Although there were many possible discussion points about this book, our taking turns telling our personal thoughts about the book took most of our discussion time. Here are the basics:

Morna volunteered to start and mentioned that she had noticed adverse publicity about this Pulitzer Prize winning book before reading it. Morna noticed that the author was praised for her ability to burrow into the souls of the characters and that the book displayed humanistic aspects. Morna recommended Donna Tartt's other books, both of which she had read.

Cindy V. was at the part of the book when Theo was at college. She was enjoying the book and was reminded of The Catcher in the Rye, perhaps the quintessential coming-of-age story, and had an urge to reread that book.

Cindy T. liked the beginning of the book but after a while didn't care about the characters and was uncomfortable with the excessive drug use. She acknowledged that the author dealt with the drug use as a realistic problem.

Flo said that there was too much philosophy at the end of the book, but that she wanted to reread that part.

Lydia loved reading the book. She felt that Theo deserved the reader's sympathy but not admiration. She thought Theo was a good example of a victim of post-traumatic stress disorder.

Carla didn't enjoy much of the book but liked the references to the artists. She thought readers more familiar with New York city would enjoy the book more.

Linda H. called the book a 'downer,' but didn't pass judgment on this quality. She reminded us that classic literature is not full of happy endings. She wanted to root for Theo and Pippa and saw them as damaged but felt that the author did not have much hope for them. She thought that Theo might have had more hope for healing had he stayed with the Barbours. She thought that not necessarily Boris, but Theo's father was most to blame for Theo's problems. She said it was ironic that Theo loved his mother more but grew up to be more like his father, with his dishonest business dealings and drugs and alcohol. Linda had the insight that the characters in the story were damaged, and Hobie repaired old damaged furniture.

Priscilla had read the whole book in 2014 and remembered enjoying the read but thinking of it as a 'downer.'

Jan especially enjoyed reading the parts about the relationship between Theo and Pippa.

Susan found the book tragic. She said the explosion reminded her that people in Aleppo, Syria are currently experiencing daily life like the explosion. She could relate to the characters who suffered the loss of a parent while young. Susan complimented the author and was very impressed with her use of language.  She commented on the resilience of young people in tragic circumstances.

Ken, too, was impressed with the author's ability to write. He could identify with Theo. He said skipping a grade was not always fun, and he admired how the author expressed the thought patterns of the adolescent boys. Ken spent his career working with damaged children.

Dennis read the book slowly because he was distracted by researching the artists who were mentioned. His favorite character was Boris.

As nominator of The Goldfinch, I find that neither my Barnes & Noble account nor my memory are clear as to what attracted me to the book, exactly when I bought it for my Nook, or how long it took me to read it. I remember seeing the cover often at the Barnes & Noble store and online before I read it. It is near the top of my list of "books that look good." It's considered a 'coming-of-age story,' which is a genre I tend to enjoy. It's on my list of "books read" as completed in November 2014. In my job as a part-time Editor, I completed 20 projects during all of 2014 and 32 in 2015 before August; which indicates that I had more time to read in 2014. The Goldfinch has an extremely exciting beginning, which might have given me the start I needed to dig into the book. I guess these are reasons for my reading The Goldfinch, and I know it took me longer than 2 months to read it. I was impressed and pleased that so many Book Club members completed or even began this long novel during the 2 months between my nominating it in August and our discussion last Monday, October 19th.

I will add photos of 2 posters I made to help our discussion about this long book stay on track.

Historical notes about The Goldfinch:

The painting, 'The Goldfinch' (in photo on poster) was completed in 1654 by Carel Pietersz Fabritius (1622-1654), a Dutch carpenter and painter who studied with Rembrandt. 'The Goldfinch' depicts a pet bird chained to a little perch. History tells that people often had pet goldfinches because these birds could be trained to dip a small pail into a bowl of water and carry the water. The painting was originally called 'Little Weller,' referring to the pail and a well. The artwork is housed in the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague, Netherlands. After the book was published, the painting was on display in New York City for a while.

The artist, Fabritius, was killed by an explosion in Delft, called 'The Delft Thunderclap.

'The Dutch army had stored gunpowder to defend the city, and the storage facility blew up. Several similar explosions occurred in Dutch cities over the years. This particular explosion involved 22.5 tons of TNT and destroyed a quarter of the city of Delft, killing many. Church deacon Simon Decker died with Fabritius, and it is not clear whether Tartt named her main character, Theo Decker, after him.

1 comment:

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