I dithered over buying a Sunday newspaper yesterday. Those Sundays when I do buy one, it normally lies, unread, until at least Thursday; the more papers we get, the longer the period of unread-ness lasts. This isn’t because the papers aren’t good, or worth reading – but, for whatever reason, there’s always something better to do than get stuck in. However, yesterday I wandered into our local shop and saw some copies of the Sunday Times lying piled on the floor. I flipped to the Culture magazine (as I am wont), and saw a face with which I was familiar, and a name which piqued my interest, and news that I had, somehow, managed to miss until that point; and so, I bought the paper.
This was the face:
And this was the name:
And this was the news:
Donna Tartt has written a new novel, which will be published in English on October 22nd, and it will be called ‘The Goldfinch.’
I devoured the article when I got home, quivering with annoyance at myself that such a huge event (for me) could be taking place, and that this was the first I’d heard of it. A new novel from Donna Tartt is massive news, for those who, very patiently, follow her work. She, for me, is one of those life-changing authors who demonstrates not only how good fiction writing can be, but also how an author can – with enough talent, and enough luck – have the life of an artist. For Donna Tartt is not only an author – she is that rarest of rare things, an author whose output is tectonic-slow, but who has a readership devoted to her every syllable, and whose work is treated like precious printed jewels. I imagine her life as being a long, gentle fluttering from one day to the next, golden and perfect phrases dripping from her pen, her mind ever set on higher things… Of course, I’m sure this is entirely wrong, but I like my little dream, all the same.
She reminds me of a Tamara de Lempicka painting, somehow.
Painting: ‘Saint-Moritz’, 1929
I am a fan not only of Tartt’s writing, but also of her approach to her writing and the skill with which she has constructed her life. Donna Tartt had a childhood comparable with any novelistic heroine, which is to say it sounds like it would make a far better plot for a novel than an actual life for a young child to live through. In the Sunday Times interview she talks about her isolation and her separation from her parents and her interest in the dark flipside of life from an early age; she discusses her familiarity with death as a result of being raised, in the main, by eccentric and elderly aunts, and the freedom that came from their ‘light touch’ guardianship. It seems no wonder that she writes so well about the fractures in the human psyche and the shadowed underbelly of the consciousness, and that isolation – that of her protagonists, but also, at a fundamental level, that of all human beings from one another – are such strong themes in her books.
Her first novel, ‘The Secret History,’ captivated me when I first read it about twelve or thirteen years ago. Even then, it was an ‘old’ book; first published in 1992, it has been a bestseller ever since. I had just finished my degree at the time I read the book, and – as it takes place in a university – I read it with a sense of recognition and familiarity. I’ve only learned recently that Tartt began the novel while a student herself, which is unsurprising on one level and also, frankly, terrifying on another; I am amazed that a 19-year-old woman could have an idea so riveting, and then go on to write a book so good, as ‘The Secret History.’ It captured my mind completely at the time, as the first book I’d read ‘for pleasure’ in many years. I didn’t have long to wait for her next book, ‘The Little Friend,’ because it was published shortly after I first became aware of her work, and so the wait for this third novel has been interminable. I wondered for a long time if she was ever going to write another novel – in some ways, Tartt reminds me of that other great literary magician, Harper Lee, whose sole novel remains an unassailable masterpiece.
Perhaps it’s a mindset common to those in the southern states of America – don’t write too many books, but make them all works of genius.
In any case, I’m looking forward to, eventually, getting my hands on ‘The Goldfinch.’ It’s good to know that there are some constants in this world – death, taxes and the inevitable brilliance of Donna Tartt.
It’s also nice to have an author to whose lifestyle one can aspire; sadly, her ability far outstrips my own, but a gal can dream!