The Novel Cure: Literary prescriptions for missing exhibitions


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The Independent Culture

Ailment: Exhibitions, missing

Cure: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

You start with the best intentions. You make a mental note to visit that unmissable exhibition – Hockney, Turner, Klee – but, knowing it'll be up for months, you don't fix a date to visit. Weeks whoosh by, and when at last you rock up to the inviting porticos, the crucial rooms are closed while the next show is installed. You kick yourself as you realise that Matisse's cut-outs have gone back to France, Cornelia Parker's shed has been flat-packed away... and all you've seen of these wonders are the rave reviews in the Sunday papers.

Take your exhibition-viewing failures in hand by self-administering an injection of art-viewing urgency with Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch. The first major scene in the novel describes a terrible explosion in a New York museum, currently hosting a number of priceless 17th-century Dutch masterpieces; but this won't put you off.

Such is Tartt's expertise in persuading us that "beauty alters the brain of reality", that great art works on us "like a secret whisper from an alleyway", and that an encounter with a single masterpiece can change the direction of our lives forever – without us even realising it – that you'll come away with a new understanding of the situation: you owe it not just to yourself, but to the works of art themselves, to ensure that an encounter occurs.

When the museum is all but destroyed, the 13-year-old narrator, Theo, walks away with more than just a love of art. He has acquired something more substantial – and more dangerous. We leave it to you to find out what this is, and how Theo copes with it as he grows into adulthood.

As Theo's mother says, "anything that we manage to save from history is a miracle". Read the novel, then go and see some of those miracles immediately – starting, of course, with Fabritius's Goldfinch.

'The Novel Cure, An A-Z of Literary Remedies' (Canongate, £17.99);