Tartt’s much anticipated third novel throws the reader straight in to the action. We meet Theo Decker holed up in an Amsterdam hotel room, hiding from the police. It’ll take another seven hundred pages to show us how he got there. The second part of the opening involves a trip to the Met, an explosion that kills his mother, and the stealing of a precious painting. What follows is a heartfelt, sometimes bordering on the absurd, tale in which Theo finds himself under the care of a number of guardians as his grief and guilt slowly eat away at him.
The story is framed around the stolen painting and although you feel Theo’s anxiety about it being found, it's not ultimately the strain of the story you care about the most. Instead we are treated to a host of characters, all intriguing in their own way. From the wealthy Barbours who take him in initially who are kind but distant, missing the heart of his home with his mother, to Vegas with his perpetually absent father. Finally he finds himself back in New York with a benevolent guardian with links to that fateful day.
Tragedy seems to follow Theo and through this we see a variety of coping mechanisms. Theo’s guilt over the death of his mother and the complete absence of the emotional support needed to process such a traumatic experience makes him turn to drugs to see him through. You’ll often find yourself wishing desperately that someone will notice his pain and help him. In others we see avoidance and pretence in the face of their own tragedies, none of which seem to truly serve them well.
Some of the most moving passages revolve around his unflinching love of Pippa. Glimpsed only momentarily on the day of the explosion, they are reunited briefly before Pippa is whisked away to recover abroad. Much as Theo may try to hide his feelings it is abundantly clear to all who know him that his attachment to her goes beyond friendship. His feelings for her are uncomfortably tied to the death of the person closest to him and it is painful to see how utterly devoted he is to someone who is always just beyond his reach.
Beautiful written with entirely believable characters, your heart will break for Theo. At times a page turner, at others a thoughtful treatise on the value of art, the importance of relationships in all their forms, and the all-consuming nature of loss. Fans of Tartt will not be disappointed.