Theo Decker is thirteen when a cruel twist of fate places him and his mother in the Metropolitan museum of art on the day that terrorists set off a series of bombs in the gallery. The two become separated and in the disorientation that follows the explosion, Theo meets Welty, an elderly gentlemen who gives him his ring and a cryptic message about an address in downtown New York and his mother’s favourite painting, The Goldfinch, which in his disorientated state, Theo takes from the museum. Theo makes it home safely only to discover that his mother has not survived the attack on the museum. Abandoned by his father a few years before, Theo is alone in New York and taken in by his wealthy friend’s family. He keeps the painting a secret, always meaning to return it to the authorities but somehow never able to part with the work of art that his mother so dearly loved. When the fog of the explosion has cleared, Theo remembers his conversation with Welty and the ring and ventures to the address he was given – here he meets the kind antique dealer Hobie and Pippa, Welty’s surrogate daughter who was also in the museum when the bomb exploded. Over the years, Theo becomes heavily dependent on prescription drugs to help him block out the loss of his dear mother and covets the painting, which he has kept secret all these years. Unable to part with the painting and addicted to drugs, Theo is drawn into a criminal underworld of shady antiques dealings, drugs and art theft. To use a cliche, he is drawn to the painting like a moth to a flame…
The Goldfinch is an amazing book – it is so incredibly well written, and although pretty hefty at over 850 pages, utterly absorbing. Donna Tartt has clearly crafted every chapter with meticulous detail and the sheer cleverness of the plot and the writing left me in awe. There are some amazingly likable characters, despite some of the unsavoury doings that they get caught up in and although the plot is quite measured in pace, I was pretty much hooked immediately. I think that is quite rare in a book that isn’t a fast action thriller – the writing is just mesmerising. Don’t be put off by the size of this book – it’s one that you will read and love and then finish and realise that it’s just genius! I guess much like the masterpieces of art that feature in the novel, this story is stunning as a whole but it’s when you look at the brushstrokes that make up it’s composition you realise just what a craft it is to construct this kind of novel.
It was pretty hard to find a food to cook that would represent this book or even vaguely tie into it – given the themes and the subject matter – so it’s a very tenuous link with my recipe this week…
As the novel is predominantly set in New York, I decided to make something ‘New York’ themed and so I went for:
Chocolate Cheesecake Brownies
Recipe taken from The Hummingbird Bakery: Cake Days
For the base:
250g unsalted butter
420g caster sugar
380g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
For the cheesecake topping:
80g white chocolate buttons
300g full fat cream cheese
60g icing sugar
- Using an electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and mix thoroughly.
- Add the remaining dry ingredients, in two batches and mix thoroughly until all incorporated and it forms a dough
- Cut off approx a quarter of the dough and wrap this in clingfilm and chill in the fridge. Line a baking tray (9x12in) with baking paper and then spread out the remaining dough on the tray, pressing it down evenly. Chill this in the fridge for approx 30 mins. While mixture is chilling, preheat the over to 170C/gas mark 3.
- Remove the base from the fridge and bake for 20-25mins. Once baked, this needs to cool completely! Once cooled, prepare the cheesecake topping…
- Melt the chocolate (I used microwave or you could do the old fashioned bain marie method). In a separate bowl, whisk the cream cheese and icing sugar together until smooth – add the egg and mix and then add the chocolate. RESIST TEMPTATION TO EAT ALL THIS MIXTURE! Just lick the bowl.
- Spread the cheesecake mixture over the brownie base and then remember the bit of dough that’s still in the fridge? Grab this and crumble in chunks over the top of the cheescake. Bake for a further 25mins and then leave to cool completely.
Completely different in tone to The Goldfinch, but utterly delicious!