The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt



Dear Donna,

I’ve just finished reading your latest book, The Goldfinch, and I would like to share my thoughts with you.

The cover shows a glimpse of a painting of the same name, painted by Carel Fabritius in 1654.  I know this picture well, having lived in Den Haag, where it sits quietly on the wall of the Mauritshaus, just around the corner from ‘The Girl with the Pearl Earring’.  You might walk past and not notice it, or you might pause to feel sorry for the small bird, chained to it’s perch in the home of a 17th century family.  Reviews concentrate on the skilled brush-work of this ‘trompe-l’oeil’ from the Dutch Golden Age of Painting, which turning dabs of paint into the illusion of feathers and down.


But what is the relevance of this picture to your plot? In your story, a thirteen year old boy,Theodore Decker, is caught up in a terrorist attack which causes the death of his mother.  In the aftermath of the explosion, comforting a dying man, he is given the painting, and a ring with instructions that lead him to the man who will become his future guardian.  Is it then a coincidence that the painter Fabritius was himself killed in an explosion in the same year that the picture was painted, or that one of his students who also died in the explosion was also named Decker?

Was this your inspiration?  The kicking off point that set you off on the 800+ page odyssey  of your book?

I read that it took you more than ten years to bring the book to fruition, and I can believe that it did.  You have obviously spent a lot of time researching the art world, the antiques world, the niceties of furniture restoration, I won’t ask about your research into the dark world of drugs which you seem to know an awful lot about, but I would bet you didn’t do so much research on the gambling life led by Theo’s father (it shows!)

I can imagine that after 10 years of writing, every page has become a piece of your soul.  That every word has been selected, changed and then restored to perfection, that to lose just one word from a page would cause you heartache and pain, like the regret of a child who has had her long hair cut short on a whim, and now wishes it back.

But let me just ask, were the whole 800 pages really necessary?  I know, they are like children to you, but to us, your readers, more than half of them would not be missed.

I could do this editing for you; let me show you what a great, punchy story you would be left with. We could remove the contrived coincidences that drive your plot, we could breathe life into your characters, we could fill in the many gaps that leave me asking why this? and why not that?

I’m sure I have missed many of the great allusions you carefully included in the story, and I am truly sorry, because there’s nothing like more than a good allusion.

I wanted to like your book, I wanted it to be as beautiful and mysterious as the painting you have named it after; a transmogrification of paint, into feathers and birdsong.

Let me know if I can be of help.

Kind regards

River Writer.


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