The Goldfinch: A nod to grief and things that give us hope
This is not a book review.
If you would have told me I would still be writing about grief, even post The Year of Magical Thinking, I would not have believed you. I was done with grief, with reading about it. With thinking of it. But that’s not how life actually works because grief appears in the most unexpected time in the most unexpected places among the most unexpected people.
The world around us has become extremely precarious — every touch has become an enmity and every word somehow a stroke. And as grief knolls on doors, there is no option other than to welcome it with open arms. There is no alternate reality where you could close the doors on its face because grief seeps in through even the smallest of crevices or, if needed, through even the thickest of walls.
The life of Theo Decker feels exactly like that.
Grief attacks Theo from all fronts — breaking his doors and demolishing his walls. Helplessness surrounds him and covers the lacunae left by his mother’s tragic death. As a way of finding that grasp on his life, he hangs onto a few objects and people that he thinks will somehow lead him ashore from the pond of grief that he had drowned in, just like the smoke and ashes that cover him from his head to toe in the novel.
The people: a girl who shares the same trauma as Theo; and a guy who, in his own helplessness, lends Theo a friendly branch and not only leads him ashore but into a drug-induced and inebriated escapist world. And the object: a painting — The Goldfinch.
Theo’s fascination over these particular things borders on being obsessive, but it is the only reprieve that he can find in a world that had, for him, turned extremely out of tune. As long as his reliance on these things stays robust, he feels like there is some semblance of hope in his life, or if not, at least there is some semblance of strength in him to fight the emptiness that surrounds him like an inky cloud. But when that thread rips apart into a million shreds, his life does the same, but now, with a higher magnitude than before.
I believe we can relate to Theo, despite his age or his morals, because we all have felt grief in one form or the other and have felt the control over our own lives slowly slithering away. I realize that, now whenever I feel grief, regardless of its size and intensity, I go back to remembering Didion’s words in The Year of Magical Thinking. I think what Didion did in her memoir was relay the truths about human behavior in ways so delicate not found in any other books or articles related to grief psychology. In recent times while I was traversing through the darkest of tunnels of my own grief, Didion showed me a way to shine the smallest of flames, so that I never pause and let the darkness swallow me. So that I move on.
And it’s a hard thing to do — to move on.
But Theo’s story tells us why it is extremely critical to actually do it. Because then your dependency on objects and people created by your initial sense of loss will only trigger more hopelessness. That dependency on other things eventually means that in the process of finding yourself, you begin to lose what you were hoping or trying your utmost best to find in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle that seems to have no end. Only a stark beginning — the tragedy that led to the grief. The one significant event.
If only this masterpiece by Donna Tartt wasn’t 800 pages long, I would use this novel as another guide to grief, but one that is explained in a fictional setting, and thus different from Didion, yet one that feels extremely relatable and relevant to human nature. There is nothing more to be said about Tartt’s writing than what has already been said, the Pulitzer for one seems to be a good reference. But if I could write as well as Tartt, I would never stop writing. But there’s a false ring to that statement as well. Perhaps, Tartt can write that well because she doesn’t write that fast or often. Writing can be monotonous, no matter how creative it is.
And reading can also be monotonous, no matter how much you love it.
But when novels like The Goldfinch come your way, no matter how late from its initial publication and regardless of its length, you find a way to fight the monotonicity because this is one piece of art that you don’t want to walk away from.