I decided to share with you information about Donna Tartt and her other novels – I recently finished The Goldfinch (2013) by Tartt and since I really enjoyed the novel I would like to read more by her. As it turns out Tartt publishes a novel once every decade more or less so there are only 3 novels to read by her. The fact that she publishes so rarely makes me feel even more intrigued in her other works as she obviously spends a great deal of time on each novel, perfecting it. If The Goldfinch is anything to go by that means there is great reading held within the pages of the other 2 novels for sure.
Tartt was born in Mississippi, US, in 1963. She went to the University of Mississippi in 1981 where Barry Hannah, writer in residence at the university at the time, was her teacher. In a Paris Review interview – The Art of Fiction no 184 – he praised her talent:
“The writing was so bad here [Ole Miss] I almost went right back to Iowa, but I got one genius, Donna Tartt. Willie Morris was a writer-in-residence in journalism and he said, “Hannah, I got a little genius for you.” She was a freshman in my graduate workshop. She was well read; all she needed was life and a story. She says I was her best teacher—introduced me that way in New York at a reading—but if you come here that loaded, not much teaching is required. Most people at eighteen haven’t read much. They haven’t read Keats or the French poets as she had. Poe. She was deeply literary when she got here. I wasn’t like that and I hardly ever see the species. Perhaps in the East, where they go to boarding school. Just a rare genius, really. A literary star.”
Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, was published in 1992 and became a bestseller. The novel is described as an inverted detective story as it reveals the murder, location, and perpetrators in the opening pages. Not a whodunnit but a whydunnit.
“Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning…”
Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend, was published in 2002 and won Tartt the WH Smith Literary Award in 2003. The Little Friend is a different kind of novel from her first and she talks to Katharine Viner of the Guardian about how she wanted to write something technically different:
“After The Secret History I wanted to write a different kind of book on every single level,” she says. “I wanted to take on a completely different set of technical problems. The Secret History was all from the point of view of Richard, a single camera, but the new book is symphonic, like War And Peace. That’s widely thought to be the most difficult form.” She reiterates this throughout the interview – that what drives her novel-writing is purely technical, a labour for new writerly challenges, rather than particular concerns or fascinations, such as the return to the south of her childhood, or a search for truth.”
On GoodReads The Little Friend is described as set “in a small Mississippi town, [where] Harriet Cleve Dufresnes grows up in the shadow of her brother, who – when she was only a baby – was found hanging dead from a black-tupelo tree in their yard. His killer was never identified, nor has his family, in the years since, recovered from the tragedy.” For Harriet, who has grown up largely unsupervised, in a world of her own imagination, her brother is a link to a glorious past she has only heard stories about or glimpsed in photograph albums. Fiercely determined, precocious far beyond her twelve years, and steeped in the adventurous literature of Stevenson, Kipling, and Conan Doyle, she resolves, one summer, to solve the murder and exact her revenge. Harriet’s sole ally in this quest, her friend Hely, is devoted to her, but what they soon encounter has nothing to do with child’s play: it is dark, adult, and all too menacing.”
Tartt also explained to Viner, after The Little Friend‘s publication, the decade it took to write the second novel:
“It took a full decade to write The Little Friend. “I can’t think of anything worse than having to turn out a book every year. It would be hell,” she says. “Part of the problem with success is that it seduces people into overproduction. When my first book came out, I was very confused because I was thrown into a world that I knew nothing about. I just kind of lived like a student, worked like a student. And then all of a sudden – well, the metaphor that comes to mind is a shark tank. It wasn’t quite that bad. But it was a shock. It was a bucket of cold water. People you’d meet and talk to and journalists would say, ‘Oh, what are you going to do to top this one? If your name’s not out there in two years, people will forget all about you.’ I mean, jeez, what are they talking about? William Styron said, when he was about my age, that he realised he had about five books in him, and that was OK. I think I have about the same number. Five.”
And with this in mind it comes as no surprise that it was 11 years before Tartt’s third book, The Goldfinch, was published in 2013.
“A young boy in New York City, Theo Decker, miraculously survives an accident that takes the life of his mother. Alone and determined to avoid being taken in by the city as an orphan, Theo scrambles between nights in friends’ apartments and on the city streets. He becomes entranced by the one thing that reminds him of his mother, a small, mysteriously captivating painting that soon draws Theo into the art underworld.”
Read my review of The Goldfinch here.
Have you read any of Donna Tartt’s novels? What are your thoughts?