Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch With a Touch of Gin

The mark of a good book is in its smell. The weight of it in your hands. The crack when it first opens and the pages fan outwards.

When I finally received The Goldfinch in the mail, I took a moment to appreciate all of these things, knowing as you do when you’re in the hands of a magnificent author, that the time spent appreciating at the beginning is necessary before diving into a tome that numbers close to a 1,000 pages. A time of resettling, just like the one that was needed at the end of this book.

Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, her third book, follows Theo Decker a 13-year-old boy who survives a freak accident in a New York City museum. Caught in the rubble of the explosion, Theo is persuaded to rescue a certain painting off the wall, Carel Fabritius’ “Goldfinch.” From there, Theo’s life cycles from one broken house to the next, all while the small painting he has tucked away continues to remind of the life he had and the mother he lost during the explosion. The painting itself will bring him into the underworld of art smuggling and robbery when he is older.

Each of Tartt’s scenes, from a curiously vacant foster house in New York City to the wasted edges of Las Vegas, are written like a small portraiture as well. Framed against the backdrop of Theo’s lives, each of these settings come to life themselves and are suffused with the same energy we find in that curious little painting. The scenes in Las Vegas are particularly chilling for me, as I’ve seen those edges of the town where houses gave way to foreclosure, gave way to desert. The abandonment and cycles of drugs and alcohol to be found on these fringes are just as real of a part of Vegas as the Strip and shiny coin clinking casinos.

Many have called The Goldfinch Dickensian, and it is that. The story winds and follows Theo’s life in a meandering way, similar to a long conversation. We cross country boundaries, personal limits, and entire families before somehow ending back up in the original story. I actually did find myself in the middle, not entirely sure how invested I was in the story, because of its meandering nature.

But then, ah. Tartt ramps up her action, pulls the story ahead into a breakneck speed, and then at the end, she leaves us with one of the most poignant paragraphs to end a story. That paragraph alone is enough to read the whole book and, while I want to write it all out right here, there’s a certain need to experience at the end of all of those other things to truly understand it.

It’s that paragraph specifically that made me hold the book close and go into a pseudo-book hangover that are so bittersweet when books are finished.


And with that, I’ll leave you with a pairing just as thoughtful, perhaps, as the book itself. In homage to the Dutch masterpiece we read about throughout, I recommend pairing this book with a Dutch style gin. It was Nolet’s for me, which was a fine choice, but any type of gin you prefer would also work. With that, I mixed lime juice, just a dash of simple syrup to sweeten, and the lovely St. Germain’s, an elderberry flower liqueur. It was a bright, fresh drink, with just a touch of flowers throughout.

Have you read The Goldfinch? What were your thoughts? 

About nikki_steele

Freelance writer and editor. Creator of BookPairing blog.
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  • Amanda @ On a Book Bender

    Oooh. Gin. I should try some of that.

    • Nikki Steele

      #Fact. :D

  • Cipriano

    Ahh, yours is one of the few positive reactions to the book I have found. My own assessment was positive [I loved it], but so many, I find, did not. It is puzzling to me. I found it very captivating and good.
    Maybe it was our mutual pairing of it, with booze!

    • Nikki Steele

      Hahah indeed! I think it was definitely a long slog at some parts, but so completely absolutely worth it. She’s such a beautiful writer.