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Kate Says: "Reading Is Fun!"

Like most of you I'm an avid reader. I'm hoping to re-connect with old friends, make new friends, and of course spread the love of reading and writing around to everyone!

Currently reading

Amy Falls Down: A Novel
Jincy Willett
The Van Gogh Blues: The Creative Person's Path Through Depression
Eric Maisel Phd
Yes Please
Amy Poehler

The Goldfinch: First Book of My Big Book Challenge 2014 (UPDATE 5 of 5)

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

This my last update with this lovely big book, so get excited that you don't have to read any more of my long winded ramblings and humongous plot descriptions after this! 


After spending so long with this one, I'm a bit sad that this beautiful genius of a book is over, but I must admit the ending was very satisfactory. So, it's well worth the read, if you've been on the fence about picking it up.


My final plot summary with spoilers included -(p. 639-771)- again these are my notes written on my iPad as I read the book. I apologize if it's long, and I won't hold it against you if you don't want to read it all. If you do, I thank you in advance. Here we go:


 Boris and Theo are in the car, and it is revealed where they are going, when Boris gives Theo his electronic plane ticket:Amsterdam. It is also revealed that Boris has a flat in Antwerp, which is only a three hour's drive. The plane takes off at 12:45AM, which doesn't leave Theo a whole lot of time to get his affairs in order and Boris tells Theo not to let anyone know where he's going  because the less people who are in on it, the better.

Back at Hobie's, Theo is getting his stuff together - cash, passport, clothes, toothbrush, underwear, socks, sweaters; when the sight of Pippa's boots, standing outside her bedroom door, brings Theo to a sharp stop. Theo pens a quick note and leaves it inside a first edition of 'Ozma of Oz'. Theo also leaves Pippa a beautiful fairy queen necklace, and exits the house.
Now Theo is at the airport saying goodbye to Boris, since they will be flying from different terminals. The way Donna Tartt describes the airport atmosphere through Theo's eyes, is really lovely and very detailed, which puts me in the midst of it all, with Theo. This kind of writing takes skillz yo! Anyways, Theo's plane is full. Once Theo is in his seat, he falls asleep, and wakes up only when the shades are pulled up, and the airline attendant is serving breakfast. Theo and Boris have arranged to meet in baggage claim, which they do, then they go get breakfast and talk over their plans.
Again, the way Donna Tartt describes the city of Amsterdam through Theo's eyes is fantastic writing, and makes me feel like I'm seeing it as well, even though I'm not there. Myriam has booked Theo a room in a canal house in the old part of town. Theo drops off his bags, locks his cash in the safe, and meets Boris back out on the street. They get into the car and get some coffee at a dirty canal side cafe and talk. Theo finds out that Horst doesn't know Boris is in Amsterdam. Boris says it will just be easier if he takes care of it, and Horst finds out later. Also, Ulrika has loyalty to her brother Sascha over Horst, which she has proven many times over. What Ulrika knows or doesn't know is not relevant to this situation. Also, since Sascha is an out of towner and needs money fast, Boris believes he can con him out of the painting for a lot less, then it's worth. When Theo asks when and where they will all meet up, Boris tells him that it's not settled yet. They may make them wait a day or two. Boris says he and Theo have to make them think they are in control.  After breakfast Boris goes to his girlfriends house near Zeedijk, and Theo is left to find his own way back to his hotel.
Of course, Theo takes a wrong turn, and in his jet lagged state, spends hours wandering aimlessly throughout Amsterdam. During this time, Theo's thoughts go toward Hobie, 'as there is a Hobie-like wholesomeness to the place.' (p. 654) However, there is just too much for Theo to see, and exhaustion takes over. Theo makes it back to his hotel by accosting strangers for directions. Once there, Theo falls asleep, and a few hours is awakened by his cell. When Theo answers, it's Boris on the other end, saying he's coming up.
Boris tells Theo he needs to clean up, put on a nice outfit, and give him the money he brought. When Theo re-enters the sleeping quarters, doing up his cuff links, he notices Boris is assembling a pistol. Theo is disturbed by this, but Boris calms him down by saying:"Is not what you think. Not at all. Is just for show!" (p. 655) Theo is beginning to think this trip is a big mistake.
Once Theo and Boris are in the car, Boris goes over the plan: We will drop off the car outside of the city. Cherry will meet us with his car and drive us to the meeting in his car. It will all be peaceful because you have cash, that's all they want. Afterwards, Cherry will drop us off at the garage, with the picture, and then we go out and celebrate! (p. 658)
As the car turns into the garage, Boris tells Theo to give him his passport, so he can lock it in the glovebox with his. Boris tells Theo they need to do this because if they are stopped by the police, it's better for them to take the fine and talk their way out of it, then have their real information on them.
 In the garage, Boris and Theo meet up with Victor Cherry and his driver, Shirley T. Victor reassures Theo that it will be easy. That they are doing Sascha a favor, and he will have to cooperate, in order to get his money for heroin. 
As they drive to the meeting place, a lunch cafe, named 'the purple cow,'  Victor tells Theo that the food is terrible, but they are going there because it's a quiet street in the evening. Theo feels strange, as if everything is in a state of dreaminess, fragmentation. A track speeding up too fast to slow down.
Victor tells Theo he will be introduced as Farruco Frantisek, upon which, he will hand over the bank draft, without saying anything. In fact the less Theo/Farruco says, the better.
Shirley T drops Theo, Victor Cherry, and Gyuri off at 'the purple cow.' Boris also exits the car, but says he's going to get dinner elsewhere and will meet up with everyone in about twenty minutes.
Boris enters the cafe and tells Theo that they are on time, but one of their men has not yet shown.
Gyuri puts the money bag on the table and then Theo hands over the papers, but as he hands them over, all hell breaks loose, and there is guns firing everywhere. Boris tells Theo to get down, while Victor emerges from the kitchen with a package the same size and shape of the painting. Then Boris tells Theo to leave with Victor and get the car. They do and Boris jumps in as well, and they drive off at a sedate and anticlimactic speed. (p. 667)
In the car, out on the main road all was jubilation, laughter, and high fives, while Theo's heart is in his throat; trying to make sense of what just happened. Boris hands Theo the package, and tells him to open it, in order to make sure it's there. While Theo is unwrapping the package, Boris is talking to Cherry about debts being repaid, but Theo isn't paying attention. He has the package open and there inside, is the real painting of the Goldfinch.
They return back to the parking garage. Theo is still in a shocked daze by everything that has happened, but Boris tells him that  he needs to wrap up the painting, so they can stick it in the hotel safe, and go out and celebrate.
Once the painting is wrapped, Boris and Theo are walking back towards the hotel, when they hear a distinctly American voice say "Merry Christmas." Theo turns and sees five men, and realizes that they are addressing Boris, not him. Theo looks at Boris and notices that his face has gone chalk white. As the story pieces itself together the reader and Theo discover that Sascha called Horst in on this whole deal, and now they are holding up Boris and Theo, until they hand over the painting. Theo pleads with Boris to hand over the painting, but Boris refuses. The other guys put a pistol to Boris's head and Theo realizes that Boris is taking the fall, so that Theo can run away with the painting, but Theo is too slow and the bad guy named Martin takes the wrapped package out of Theo's hands. Now both Boris and Theo are fucked. Then again gun fire breaks out and all Theo can do is find Boris, to see if his friend is OK. Theo acts on instinct and picks a pistol up off the ground and starts firing. He hits Martin in the shoulder and  then again above the eye. Once the shooting is over, Theo hears Boris asking if he's OK, but his voice sounds very far away. When Theo touches his face, his hand comes back red. In this moment, the reader experiences all the smells and associations Theo makes, and again it's some startling and beautiful writing, that I can't even begin to describe here. Theo fades out and it's as if Boris is doing CPR. Theo returns and Boris says, 'your specs.' Boris thanks Theo for saving them, and then tells Theo to follow him. Boris leads Theo behind a glassed-in office, and tells Theo he needs to get rid of any clothing that has blood on it. Then Boris dunks Theo's head into a freezing cold spigot to get the blood off his skin. As this is happening, Theo notices that Boris is holding his arm at a weird angle. It turns out Boris was nicked by the Chinese boy, who turns out to be Sascha's boyfriend. Then after their freezing showers, Boris and Theo get dressed quickly and get into the car. Theo has to drive because Boris has a drunk driving conviction on his record, which is why he has a driver, not because he's fancy. However, Theo has a buzzing sound in his head. While they are driving, Boris explains what just happened to Theo, so he can make the connections. It's too long for me to recount here, but it's very interesting, and helps the reader make the connections as well.
Unfortunately, the painting is gone forever, but hey at least Theo and Boris have their lives, even though they are a bit rough for wear. All the streets leading back to Theo's hotel are blocked off due to construction, so Boris tells Theo to get out and walk back, reassuring Theo that he will be OK. Boris tells Theo that he might have to get out of Amsterdam for a while, but he'll be back when he can. He tells Theo not to get in touch with him and gives Theo some drugs to take the edge off. Theo's last sight of Boris, is of him talking on the phone with the window rolled down and leaning out, in extravagant clouds of auto fume, to see what was going on with the stalled van ahead. (p. 687)
Again, Theo is wandering around the canal rings for hours, searching for his hotel, but instead of being charmed with the city, he is annoyed, cold, and miserable. Theo removes his glasses, in order to blend in more normally on the streets, but now he's having a hard time seeing the street signs, which just adds to his unease and confusion.
Theo finally makes it back to the hotel and explains to the concierge that he got caught in the rain and spilled chocolate sauce on himself at dinner. Once Theo gets into his room he turns on all the lights, shrugs his coat to the floor, and heads straight toward the shower, making it as hot as it will go, as rivulets of pink stream beneath his feet, scrubbing at his skin until his skin is on fire. (p. 689)
The shirt is a loss, but Theo tries everything to get the blood out of his jacket, without success. Then he scrubs the whole bathroom down and gets back into the shower and scrubs himself down again, until he drops into bed from exhaustion.
The next morning Theo is awakened by the doorbell of his hotel room. Still half asleep, Theo puts on his robe, cracks the door, and asks:"Boris?" But it's just laundry pick up. Theo gives the woman his not good enough shirt, suit and scarf. Then when she's gone, Theo has a moment of panic, and calls the front desk. The front desk attendant tells Theo that his garments have already gone out to be cleaned, but they will be arriving back by five o'clock, guaranteed.
Theo thanks the attendant and hangs up.
Theo turns to the dope Boris gave him, and takes a bump, which makes him pass out for an indeterminate amount of time. Again, the descriptions of his dreams are fantastic, and what makes this book stand out for me. When the doorbell rings again, Theo gets up and realizes his laundry is done and is being dropped off. After that Theo gets fresh towels, and orders room service. He puts on every piece of clothing he brought because he's caught the flu and falls in and out of vivid dreams. 
Theo awakes nauseated and itchy. The drug is leaving his system and he is still sick, but he is grateful that everything turned out OK, because it might not have. Theo is delirious and is searching for knowledge just beyond the known, in his dreams of Andy and his father, trying to avoid an emptiness so dark that it destroys anything you'd ever look at or think of as light. (p. 695)
In the days leading up to Christmas, we learn that Theo is still in Amsterdam, staying confined to his room, getting over his illness, watching a lot of TV in Dutch and basically losing track of time. Theo's main contact with reality is when he orders room service. However, the anxiety and fear, aren't going away because Theo's reached new heights in criminal activity, when he killed Martin. So, Theo thinks he's already dead, a sense of being past everything.(p. 701)
However, Theo knows that the painting will be remembered, and it's loss will be mourned. He thinks this is the worst kind of immortality because intentionally or not, he's extinguished a light at the heart of the world. At this time Theo's thoughts go toward his father, and he tries to imagine what his dad would do if he were alive and in Theo's shoes.
In the external world, the hotel Theo is staying at, is filling up for the holidays. Theo finally works up the nerve to pull up the blackout shade and he sees a TV crew on the street outside of the hotel. This makes Theo's chest hurt, so he pulls down the blackout shade again, and takes a very long and hot shower. Theo has also been looking at the Dutch papers and recognizes a picture of the parking garage with police tape across the exit. In between dozing off, talking to people who aren't alive, and having vivid dreams, Theo scours the Dutch papers trying to recognize Dutch-English cognates, which are few and far between.
Theo's thoughts turn to Boris-'Where is he?' Theo knows he's not supposed to contact him and Boris insisted he wasn't badly injured, so Theo clings to the hope that he will one day just show up, when it's least expected. However, Theo breaks down, and picks up his phone off the nightstand and texts:'Where are you?' (p. 704) Then Theo stays awake for hours in a state of barely controlled anxiety. When he wakes up again, his phone is dead, but he's afraid to ask the front desk for a charger, but finally breaks down again, and makes the call. Turns out they do have a US charger, and Theo is excited, but has to control it. However, when Theo plugs the phone into the charger, black smoke emanates from the phone and the screen goes to black. Clearly Theo has short circuited the device. 
Theo doesn't have a return ticket to the US, but he does have a credit card, and he can take a cab to the airport. However, Theo remembers that his passport is still in Boris' car, and he remembers Andy telling him that when he lost his passport overseas he had to fly witnesses out to vouch for him. This thought makes Theo ill. Theo remembers Boris telling him about the trains and thinks about it, but then he works himself up so much, all he can do is take and aspirin and go to sleep. Simple actions.
The next day, Christmas Eve, Theo forces himself to eat a large room service breakfast and throws out the Dutch newspaper without reading it, because he's afraid he won't be able to do what he needs to do, if he reads it. He throws out all the other papers too, packs up what little belongings he has left, puts his coat on, reverses the 'do not disturb' sign, and leaves. 
Theo walks for about twenty minutes in miserable weather, feeling horrible, until he happens upon a rubbish bin on a deserted corner. Here, Theo puts his ruined shirt inside and walks on, feeling a burst of exhilaration. Theo trudges along aimlessly for a while until he spots a taxi, that he flags down, and asks to be dropped off at Central Station. Once Theo gets there, he goes inside, trying to look like all the other people there, goes up to the counter to buy an evening train for Paris, when the teller asks for his passport. Theo makes an excuse as to why he doesn't have his passport on him, and shows the teller his state ID, credit card, and Social Security, but the teller tells him that he needs a passport to travel, and suggests that he should get his passport and purchase his ticket later that evening. Theo insists that he purchase the ticket now, but the teller can't accept the documentation, and says sorry sir, and turns her attention to the next customer. 
Theo finds a pay phone and calls The American Consulate of the Netherlands. The person who answers the phone asks Theo if he's reported his passport as stolen to the authorities? Because it must be reported right away. Theo curses himself for saying that, and covers his tracks by saying it just happened, at Central Station. The voice on the other end says that whether it's lost or stolen, a police report needs to be made, but then feels bad and asks Theo for his information and asks if he has documentation establishing his citizenship? Theo says that he has his Social Security card, State ID, and can get his birth certificate faxed over. The voice says that should do, and gives Theo a web address to download, print, fill out, and bring in person to their offices near the Rijksmuseum, along with two 5x5 centimeter photos with a white background, and the police report. Theo chokes on this and says he won't have time. The voice tells him their offices won't be open much longer anyways, because it's Christmas Eve and all, so it's recommended that he gets his paperwork in order and come to the offices on the Monday after Christmas. The voice on the other end isn't happy any more and is just trying to get Theo off the phone. Holly, the person on the other end, tells Theo that a temporary passport doesn't have the right chip to get him back into the US anyways, and gives him her information if he requires further assistance and hangs up.
Theo's fever spikes, so he catches a cab back to his hotel, where much to his relief, has been cleaned and the mini bar restocked. He takes two bottles of gin and mixes them with hot water. Here, dreams and reality mix, but Theo is thinking of suicide, only there isn't enough drugs and pills to actually get the job done right. So, Theo thinks if he drinks enough on his empty stomach and then takes his emergency heroin, it should work because his tolerance is low. He starts by drinking the rest of his gin and then moves on to white wine. As he's drinking the wine, he takes out some hotel stationary and the not so great hotel pen and starts writing letters to: Hobie, Mrs. Barbour, Kitsey, and Pippa in that order. Then he takes a shower, shaves, puts on his suit, and then from the streets below Theo hears Christmas music, which of course is all wrong for suicide, and then Theo pukes into the trash can, curses, and throws himself face first into bed, letting the blackness of his failure, close over him.
In this blackness, Theo's mother finds him. He's  not sure if it's a dream or if he's really dying, but there is his mom, waiting to greet him and then, right as she's about to say something to Theo, he wakes up.
It's morning and all the lights are still on and Theo is under the covers with no memory of how he got there. All he can think of is his Mother's presence in his dream, and it's comforting. Then Theo hears church bells and remembers that it's Christmas Day.
Theo showers, shaves, dresses, and packs his things, trying not to think about what he's about to do. Theo's about to face the music and right some wrongs. He doesn't want to end up like his father. As Theo is leaving his room, he notices a tiny ribbon-wrapped bag of candies on the doorknob. With a handwritten note that says:'Merry Christmas!' Theo puts the candy into his suit pocket and breathes deeply.
Theo decides to have breakfast before going to the American Consulate and tell them everything. While at breakfast the concierge tells Theo that he has an unexpected guest who's on his way up to his room. Theo goes pale, curses, and rushes up to his room where he finds Boris! 
Theo is startled, but relieved. They go into the room where Boris tells Theo he looks like shit. They order room service and call Gyuri. Something inside of Theo is dead, since Boris reappeared. They eat in silence and then Theo asks:'Do you have my passport?' (p. 733) Boris says:'Of course' and goes on to other things, while Theo asks where is it? The silence that ensues between them while not hostile, per say, becomes unmanageable. Then Boris asks Theo, didn't you get my texts? Theo is shocked and confused. Then Boris gives Theo the wrapped painting and Theo just takes it and leaves, so an incident like last time can't happen again. Boris insists that Theo opens it now, as it's even better than the painting. Theo opens it and it's a lot of money and Boris tells him there's even more coming to Theo.
Theo gets upset and tells Boris to keep his money. Then confusion and arguments between Theo and Boris ensue and Theo tells Boris to leave.
But before Boris leaves, Theo asks him if he could just tell him where the painting is? Boris calls Theo an idiot and tells him that this is the reward money for the painting's safe return.
All Theo can do is stare in dumbfoundment at what Boris is telling him.
Boris tells the story and says that Sacha's in jail and they have two dozen or more other stolen pictures, calling it 'one of the great art recoveries of history.' (p. 741) Boris then tells Theo that Sascha's China-boy got away and no one knows how Horst is connected to the whole thing, but no matter now, all is good. Then Boris apologizes to Theo about all that's happened between them throughout the years and have a philosophical discussion on good and bad, and Theo realizes why he likes Boris so much, it's because he's fearless.
Boris then says to Theo he needs to come to Antwerp, but Theo insists he needs to get home. Boris says no you're going to Antwerp and we're going to get you a new coat.
So Theo goes to Antwerp with Boris and then two days after Boxing Day, Theo takes the red-eye back to Hobie's.  Hobie is being very polite to Theo, but  there seems to be a new distance between them. Then Hobie blurts out:'It was really inappropriate for you to give Pippa that necklace." (p. 749) Then  Hobie tells Theo about his encounter with Lucius Reeve and his startling accusations.
Theo apologizes to Hobie that he had to find out this way, but Hobie is distressed that he let it get this far, in the first place. Theo says he has the money to cover his mistake and starts to tell Hobie about his time in Amsterdam. Hobie reacts to what Theo's telling him like a boiler about to explode and Theo realizes that Hobie's mad that he left him and Pippa at the engagement party and they were terribly worried about him. Then the visit from Lucius Reeve and then the newspaper article about the painting showing up with a lot of others. Theo tells Hobie that he can explain everything and asks him to sit down. (p. 753)
Hobie listens intently to Theo and then he tells Theo he needs to show him something. He gets an old photo album out and shows Theo an artist's copy of some of Welty's favorite works and says:'With very great paintings it's possible to know them deeply, inhabit them almost, even through copies.' ( p. 754)
Then Hobie asks Theo why didn't he just tell him about the painting? Theo just remembers being scared of everything at thirteen. Then Hobie says:'People love art because it's an individual heart attack. Can't good come around some strange back doors? (p. 758)
Yes it can. It's a year later and Theo's been traveling the world thinking about what's worth living for, what's worth dying for, and what's completely foolish to pursue. He's trying to reclaim all the frauds still out there. However, Theo is still himself and he's following his heart, even though he now knows his heart cant be trusted. It's not about outward appearances but inward significance. (p. 761)
Theo's engagement is off with Kitsey. Theo has gotten Mrs. Barbour out of the house. Pippa took the book, but left the necklace and a letter saying she loved Theo but that they were too much alike, since they had gone through the exact same things. Theo is thinking he can change. This book was written with Pippa in mind, but Theo doesn't think anyone will read it for obvious reasons, and the whole thing was recorded in a series of blank notebooks starting at age thirteen, which is why it reads a bit on the disjointed side, but again why I adored it nonetheless.
In the end Theo says:"If our secrets define us, as opposed to the face we show the world: then the painting was the secret that raised me above the surface of life and enabled me to know who I am. And it's there: in my notebooks, every page, even though it's not. Dream and magic, magic and delirium. The Unified Field Theory. A secret about a secret." (p. 764)
About himself as a painter Fabritius is saying plenty. His lines speak on their own; the speed of his brush is visible, as is the sureness of his hand, paint dashed thick. And yet there are half-transparent passages rendered so lovingly alongside the bold. (p. 765) So is life, suffering, and the refusal to pull back from the world until death takes your last breath. Because here's the truth: life is catastrophe, but isn't it possible to play the game with a kind of joy? (p. 767)
Then Theo gets all philosophical but I just love this quote:"There's a middle zone, a rainbow edge where beauty comes into being, where two very different surfaces mingle and blur to provide what life does not:and this is the space where all art exists, and all magic. And-I would argue as well-all love. Or, perhaps more accurately, this middle zone illustrates the fundamental discrepancy of love." (p. 770) 
This is represented in Pippa's character and why Theo has written these pages as such. Also, whatever teaches us to talk to ourselves is important, as well as, whatever teaches us to sing out of despair. However, we can speak to each other throughout time, and know this -  life is short, so we must wade through the cesspool with our eyes and hearts open towards love. (p. 771)
Wow, what a beautiful way to end this exciting story!