On the way to a meeting with the school principal that 13-year-old Theo knows can only end badly, he is dragged into the museum on a whim by his vivacious, much-adored mother. Sick with thoughts of her inevitable disappointment in him, he attempts to appreciate her rapture in an exquisite Dutch painting of a tiny bird that she first encountered in a book as a child. But he is distracted by the presence of an unusual looking girl, younger than him and in the company of an old man.
In the moments that follow, Theo’s world is blown from its axis. He wakes, concussed, to find himself amid rubble; around him lies the aftermath of a catastrophic explosion. The old man’s dying words compel him to take up the bird painting and stuff it into his bag before he stumbles, unnoticed, out of the museum.
His mother dead, his erratic and drunken father temporarily untraceable,Theo is taken in by the wealthy Manhattan socialite parents of his closest schoolfriend. When his booze-addled father reappears, Theo is relocated to the backblocks of Las Vegas. Here his descent into drug addiction and true despair begins.
Tartt’s third, eagerly awaited novel is a vast, sprawling saga of loss, obsession, self-destruction and, ultimately, resurrection.
Set between New York, Las Vegas and Amsterdam, it is a finely drawn study of character and circumstance.These are 771 pages that you will never want to end. I loved the hapless yet magnetic Theo, the intensity of his teenage friendship with the hilarious and dangerous Russian/Ukrainian/Australian Boris, and his haunted obsession with a single small painted bird that would forever link him to the dreamscape of his lost childhood.
Published Little, Brown
Reviewed by Marian Barker