Award-winning books are too often selected on the basis of what readers "should" like, rather than what they actually do. And I'm not talking about catering to the lowest common denominator, not at all. I am talking about rewarding those writers who stake out that rare claim to the intersection of edifying art and sheer reading pleasure. Tartt writes like a dream, sustaining the reader's out-of-body experience in thrall to the Dickensian story of a boy who grows into a man whose life is stuck at a moment in time.
From Stephen King's review for the New York Times:
“The Goldfinch” is a rarity that comes along perhaps half a dozen times per decade, a smartly written literary novel that connects with the heart as well as the mind. I read it with that mixture of terror and excitement I feel watching a pitcher carry a no-hitter into the late innings. You keep waiting for the wheels to fall off, but in the case of “The Goldfinch,” they never do.
Like the best of Dickens (I will not be the last to make this comparison), the novel turns on mere happenstance — in this case, a heavy rainstorm in New York City. Theo Decker, our adolescent narrator, has been suspended from his school. He and his well-loved mother (“Everything came alive in her company; she cast a charmed theatrical light”) set off for a “conference” with school officials but duck into the Metropolitan Museum of Art to get out of the weather. There is a terrorist bombing, and many people are killed. One is a woman with a spray-on tan and a blouse printed with Fabergé eggs: “Her skin had a healthy apricot glow even though the top of her head was missing.” Audrey Decker, Theo’s mother, is another casualty.
Of course, all this is an alternate history (or a secret history, if you prefer). No such bombing ever happened, and the painting that a dazed and frightened Theo spirits out of the wreckage — “The Goldfinch,” made in 1654 by Carel Fabritius — was never stolen. It resides in the Royal Picture Gallery of The Hague. This in no way spoils Tartt’s charmed narrative, which follows 10 years of Theo’s adventures.
The first note is one of “Rebecca”-like anxiety. The unnamed narrator of that book begins by saying, “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Theo starts in a fashion so similar it could be an hommage (but probably isn’t): “While I was still in Amsterdam, I dreamed about my mother for the first time in years.” He may not often dream of her, but Audrey Decker rarely leaves this 21st-century Oliver Twist’s mind. Surprisingly few novelists write well of grief, but Tartt — whose language is dense, allusive and so vivid it’s intoxicating — does it as well as it can be done. “I had fallen off the map,” Theo says. “The disorientation of being in the wrong apartment, with the wrong family, . . . groggy and punch-drunk, weepy almost. . . . I kept thinking I’ve got to go home and then, for the millionth time, I can’t.”
If you love to read, you will love this book. Promise.