Donna Tartt writes so well that the Pulitzer people were compelled to award their prize to her novel, “The Goldfinch.” An extra-impressive feat considering it’s an award so prestigious that some years the committee finds none among the billions of novels published every year worthy of their kiss of automatic bestseller-dom. But rather than stumble further into a tirade outlining my feud with this cabal of critical killjoys and their silent and invisible but no doubt existent and reciprocated animosity, I’ll add my voice to the chorus of praise bellowing about Donna Tartt, thereby giving you the gumption to read her work that a million glowing reviews and Stephen King and the Pulitzer couldn’t.
“The Goldfinch” is narrated by a boy who, due to a museum bombing, loses his mother and gains a painting. He loves the painting but is tremendously dissatisfied by the trade. The novel follows him and his grief-swaddled existence through time spent in New York and Las Vegas, and eventually, climactically, Amsterdam. I found it to be the sort of rollicking, stay-up-later-than-normal read usually associated with books featuring more than one explosion, or at least aliens or a pandemic or a comically massive red dog, rather than a coming-of-age tale suffused with grief and concerns about hiding a painting.
Like “The Goldfinch,” her first novel, “The Secret History,” is a finger-exhausting page-turner despite featuring little of the fanfare that typically propels those sorts of books. It does have some murder (on the first page even), and a horrifying and ancient ritual, but it’s mostly about ramifications, and it gallops along with a pace that surpasses its plot points. Her second novel, “The Little Friend,” is probably also great (though its reviews are less enthusiastic), but I must wait my turn to read it, and anyway it’s nice to save a little Tartt for the decade-long (and worth it) wait for her next book.
There has been some backlash against “The Goldfinch,” which tends to happen when something is popular and good, by critics that prefer their fiction to be non-fictional and mostly concern the ennui of professorships or lake houses or small, conventional dogs and to have plots revolving around getting old or being unhappy or, in certain ambitious cases, both. They dislike Tartt’s novel in part because of its “absurd” premise, what with its terrorist attack and orphaned child, things that fortunately are unrealistic and unheard of occurrences in the real world, outside of such “fantastical literature.” Though clearly I’m of the opinion that this is a great novel, it’s not that I’m unwilling to hear words against it. Rather, I find it absurd to be angry about its success and to believe it’s a “book for children” and somehow believe that reading it, because of its supposedly fanciful nature, will kill the public’s interest in literature. Which of course makes sense because what the public wants most are ultra-realistic examinations, scrubbed of even a hint of escapism, on what it’s like to be alive.
Anyway, Donna Tartt crafts her books carefully and with a passion that pays off for the reader. A book per decade is a wonderful rate when they’re this good.