Monday 11 August 2014

Some thoughts on The Goldfinch and Donna Tartt's writing

Vanity Fair has a July 2014 article summarizing the critics: "It's Tartt--But is it Art?"

Much of my reading time the past month has been devoted to the oeuvre of Donna Tartt. I was turned on to her work through my book club, which assigned the 2013 Pulitzer-winning The Goldfinch (easily 200 pages too long, making me suspect Tartt never had a darling she was able to kill). I then turned to the other two of her tomes, and read them in sequence: The Secret History (1992), and The Little Friend (2002).

There is no doubt that Ms. Tart is a magnificent talent; as Laura Miller put it in her 2002 review of The Little Friend, Donna Tart definitely has "the hoodoo"...she creates great characters and dynamite atmosphere. BUT...while I read her thinking "Wow, this is a great writer," I finish the books without being able to call them great books. Ayelet Waldman put her finger on the problem with this book, in particular, and all three of Tartt's books, generally: "one day, in the middle of writing the book, she got up, went to work, and suddenly decided to just type the words, 'The End,' at the bottom of the page." The books just aren't satisfactory (The Little Friend being the least satisfactory of the three). The amount of time we invest just isn't rewarded with enough of an epiphany at the end.

And I say this as a reader who would LOVE to love her books, a reader desperate for a new literary immortal, a WOMAN immortal, especially. The main problem, as I see it, is that Ms. Tartt writes atmosphere, character, and dilemma, but she frustrates the reader, sometimes by just going on for unnecessary pages and chapters, but ultimately because she hasn't found themes that resonate deeply enough for me.

May she, one day soon, find her grasp equal to her reach. To make it into Steinbeck, Victor Hugo, Dickens, and Harper Lee territory, she has to write about justice and injustice, plain and simple. A good long--and, especially, an overlong--story simply isn't enough.

I look forward to learning what you think about Donna Tartt's writing...

PS Coincidentally (?), the word "Goldfinch" appears on p. 365 of The Little Friend.

PPS Other reviewers have taken the name Harriet to refer to Harriet the Spy. Why not Harriet for Harry Potter, I'd like to know, especially given the nickname Boris gives Theo in The Goldfinch (Potter)?