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A Reading of Donna Tartt's 'The Goldfinch' Part Two

Updated on August 7, 2014

The Painting

So where did we leave off?

Theo was living with his father, Larry and his girlfriend, Xandra in Las Vegas, way out in the middle of nowhere, spending his days with his friend Boris, who introduced him to drink and drugs. He still had the painting hidden away, not even looking at it for fear of either losing it, or damaging it.

Part two begins quite suddenly with Larry attempting to steal what little money was put away for Theo after his mothers death. Whatever money was there, was to go specifically to his education but after speaking with his mothers Lawyer, Theo finds out Larry had tried on a couple of occasions to get his hands on it. While there is a lot going n with his father, we as readers are left to guess what is happening, just like Theo must. There are strange men coming to the door asking for his father, he sometimes has loads of money and others he has nothing. As readers, we are to assume that he is dealing in some sort of drug, or involved in gambling. Either way, it gets him killed.

This is where part to really comes into play, without much hesitation, Theo realizes he has to get to New York, He asks Boris to come with him, but for some reason, Boris refuses, saying he will join him when he sorts some things out. So off goes little Theo with the dog Popchik, and of course the painting. The Journey itself is written extremely well. he is anxious, lonely and tired and all of these emotions are expressed through his actions towards the dog. He's worried he wont get the dog on the bus, even when he does he's worried he will be noticed and kicked off. Considering he himself is probably concerned about traveling on his own, he's projecting how he feels about his situation onto how he feels about the dog.

The journey is a long one, but with the money and drugs he stole from Xandra, he has enough to keep him going. He finds Hobie and asks if he can stay with him, and it seems that things are going to well for Theo. He has a proper father figure, he's in New York, where he always wanted to be and he has a job helping Hobie with the antiques. Everything seems like it has worked out for the best.

Art Robbery!

Not quite how Theo left with the painting....
Not quite how Theo left with the painting....

What happens next?

Theo is suddenly a grown man, still with Hobie in the shop and still on drugs. He has placed the painting in a storage unit, never even opening it to look at it. His relationship with Pippa, never becomes anything other than friendly, which he constantly thinks of. She has a new boyfriend whom she met in school in Switzerland. This weighs heavily on Theo as he thinks of how it could be him.

In the years that Theo was a partner in Hobie's antiques shop, Theo was successful in getting the business back off the ground, but unbeknownst to Hobie, it was through less than honest work. He sells fake antiques for high prices to people who wouldn't know the difference. He has also gotten into a relationship with Kitsey Barbour, the family who he spent time with after the museum explosion. Although he obviously doesn't love her the way he does Pippa, he appears happy enough. This is where I have an issue with the book, the relationship with Kitsey is formal, happens suddenly and is rarely spoken about, even though they plan to marry.

Tartt doesn't dwell on this relationship, maybe because it holds no meaning for either party, or its simply a way of putting him in a relationship, whichever it was, I found the whole thing a little odd. Not only does Kitsey cheat on Theo, when he brings it up she brushes it off, and he lets it go easier than walking past a 1 cent coin on the street. They don't marry in the end, but I still found the whole ordeal a little unlikable. This may be because grief lingers over his very existence. Theo says, “Sometimes, unexpectedly, grief pounded over me in waves that left me gasping; and when the waves washed back, I found myself looking out over a brackish wreck which was illuminated in a light so lucid, so heartsick and empty, that I could hardly remember that the world had ever been anything but dead.” Even in his happiest of days, he is surrounded by loneliness, so Kitsey could have simply been an object capable of filling this void for him, regardless of how she felt in their 'relationship'.

After he sells a fake antique to a client, who then realizes he's been conned, they both meet to talk out the options, obviously Theo doesn't want trouble, it could cost him is relationship with Hobie, the only real one he has left. The client then tells Theo that he knows he is the one who stole the Goldfinch from the museum, Theo denies it, but after reading a newspaper article about the painting coming up in a drugs operation in Amsterdam, Theo is sincerely confused. Everything about him revolves around this painting. “The painting was the still point where it all hinged: dreams and signs, past and future, luck and fate.” It is art, after all, that ultimately allows Theo to overcome “the ungainly sadness of creatures pushing and struggling to live.” Even though he hadn't actually seen the painting in over eight years, it still holds him close, he is never truly apart from it, when he is the only one who knows of its whereabouts.

Theo and The Goldfinch

An amazing interpretation of Theo by Elenie Chung found at:
An amazing interpretation of Theo by Elenie Chung found at:

Trouble Walks In:

Out of the blue, Theo meets the adult Boris, still as corrupt as when he was a child. He brings Theo for lunch and from what he can see, Boris is doing quite well, married with a job, one that Theo doesn't quite fully understand. It is at this point that everything breaks down for Theo. Boris reveals that he stole the painting back in Vegas and replaced it with a science book, and since Theo never opened the package, he had no idea. The painting in the newspaper was the original, which Boris has been using in criminal deals as collateral. Theo is devastated. What follows are the irrational, confusing and chaotic actions of an obsessives attempt to locate and retrieve the painting. For Theo, the process is similar to that of the stages of grief, he struggles to come to terms with this third and most devastating loss. First his mother, then his father, now the thing that kept him together all those years, knowing he was the only man alive who knew the painting survived the museum explosion.

He comes up against all sorts of less than legal dealings with Boris, now, obviously totally corrupt, still arrogant and completely untrustworthy. Of course, its still luminating to point out that Theo, Boris and even Pippa, are simply shaped by the horrors they experienced as young children. Although Boris's trauma was different to Theo and Pippa's, it was certainly capable of causing a self destructive impulse, to which Boris seems to find exciting. He's built quite the life for himself on shady dealings and illegal activity of enormous consequence.

The final blowout happens quickly, with Boris and his henchmen turning up in Amsterdam with Theo, to finally retrieve the painting. Boris has of course brought guns and a shootout occurs, leaving Boris injured, a random-er running off with the painting, and Theo killing a man. Theo leaves, convinced of being chased by the authorities, and holds up in a hotel for seven drug fueled, paranoid days. The fact that Theo actually killed someone, appears to be of very little consequence to him, compared to the loss of the painting.

In the end, the painting finds its way back to the Museum, and the book ends with Theo travelling the world in an attempt to buy back the fake antiques he sold, as a way of cleansing himself from his past, without simply denying it. He faces his demons by trying to right the many wrongs he made as a result of his undeniably, unpleasant childhood trauma''s.

Favourite Tartt Novel?

So which was your favorite Donna Tartt Novel?

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The Theo-finch


In conclusion, I feel its safe to say I enjoyed the book entirely. The length didn't bother me, but instead allowed a full and thought out experience for me as a reader. I've read many reviews where people compare it to teenage literature, but written for adults. Personally, I recognized the aesthetic similarities between the bespectacled wizard and Theo, but it had no effect on how I read or perceived the character. Tartt writes with such precision that its hard not to see her world, the world Theo and Boris, and even Popchik the dog inhabit. Every character has their own place within the universe of the Goldfinch, and although it may be construed as over detailing the insignificant, I reveled in Tartts exploratory narrative.

The theme of The Goldfinch is certainly undesirable circumstances, every character appears to be in their own little personal Hell, dealing with brain injuries, no money, drugs, theft, and running from problems, However, Tartt delves into all of these issues to really get at how they each affect her characters, and the difference in how each in turn handle their problems. I don't think the book is overall a morbid one. I anything, I found it contemplative but fast paced, It wasn't a slow description of how the death of a mother affected a child forever, it was the story of how a child was thrown into chaos and somehow, divinely, came out out of it alive, wanting to do the right thing.

A brilliant read, one that you wont forget anytime soon.

My Rating:

4 stars for The Goldfinch

Why Four?

I chose four out of five for small things really. I enjoyed the read immensely, however, I know a lot of people thought it was very long, and although I know I wouldn't have cut anything out of it, it all importance, no matter how seemingly insignificant it felt, but there were things that could have been cut. The relationship with Kitsey, I hated. I felt it was forced and unnecessary, but again, that was the point of the whole thing.

And Of course, while it was a great book, I don't think it was as show stopping a read as 'The Secret History' which is a definite 5 stars.

© 2014 belleart


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