The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (2013)

Life’s shit and then you die. And dat’s dat, matey.

That’s why we have art. That’s Tartt’s take. Or rather Theo Decker’s, the protagonist in The Goldfinch.

Does this insight save you reading this one-kilo 771-pager? Nope. Because it’s a corker.

Which is why we’re going to mull over Albert Camus a mo. The Outsider‘s protagonist, Meursault, clocks that nothing matters in life and so he doesn’t care. About anything.

My mother died today. Or maybe yesterday, I don’t know.

Now, how’s that for an upbeat opening?

…everyone knows that life isn’t really worth living. In the end, I knew that it didn’t matter much whether you died at thirty or seventy, because in either case other men and women would of course go on living, and it would be like that for thousands of years.

He goes on to say we’re all condemned to death as soon as we’re born. Samual Beckett nodded in that direction with his gloomy birth astride the grave. And Dylan Thomas, with his rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though that might have been the Brown’s Hotel barman flicking the light switch on and off for last orders.

I guess in the fifties and sixties there was still a lot of reeling from the Second World War, but even Willy’s Macbeth, 350 years before, got the uselessness too.

Life is but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing.

Ping. The play Macbeth, a work of art, has survived and outlived Camus’s millions and millions of privileged others condemned to death by being born.

Which brings us, gurning with the blues, back – come on, chin up, chin up, or you’ll get gravel on it – to this little bird in this little oil painting, The Goldfinch, by Carel Fabritius in 1654.

[The goldfinch (in the painting)] can never have understood why it was forced to live in such misery: bewildered by noise… distressed by smoke, barking dogs, cooking smells, teased by drunkards and children, tethered to fly on the shortest of chains. Yet even a child could see its dignity: thimble of bravery, all fluff and brittle bone… refusing to pull back from the world.

Ping. The painting The Goldfinch, a work of art, has survived too and outlived Camus’s millions and millions of privileged others condemned to death by being born.

And the protagonist Theo, in this superb book, says, … I find myself fixing on that refusal to pull back…no one will ever, ever be able to persuade me that life is some awesome, rewarding treat… [spoiler alert halts me here]

And Tartt, with her piercing panache, reminds us that art teaches us that we can speak to each other across time. And boy, that’s something worth having.

I heard a llama fart this morning. How cool is that?

Should have recorded it.

Thanks for being here.

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Book Bore

Guy Nicholls, writer and book bore.

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