Author spotlight: Donna Tartt

At this time of year, lots of reviewers (including me!) recommend The Secret History by Donna Tartt as the epitome of dark academia and autumnal reading. But what about her other books? I thought I’d pull together an author spotlight on Donna Tartt to learn more about her and her backlist.

Let’s start with a quick bio. Donna Tartt, full name Donna Louise Tartt (born December 23 1963 in Mississippi, US), is an American novelist, essayist and critic. Whilst attending the University of Mississippi her writing impressed her professors so much so that they recommended that she transferred to Bennington College where she began work on her debut novel The Secret History (1992).

The Secret History (1992)

After nine years of continuous work, Tartt finally published her debut novel The Secret History in 1992. The edgy dark academia was an instant success and sat on the New York Times best-seller list for 13 weeks. The success was unexpected as Tartt says “I started The Little Friend before I sold The Secret History. The huge success of The Secret History was not what I expected”.

Following this Tartt spent years touring as she believed a writer should meet the readers and the booksellers if they want to sell books. Interestingly though she is also quoted saying that “the actual publicity part television, photographs, interviews with the tape recorder going that’s miserable for me”.

The Little Friend (2002)

When the buzz died down, Tartt disappeared into her New York apartment. During the decade that followed Tartt worked relentlessly on completing her second novel The Little Friend amidst the worry that it would suffer from ‘second book syndrome’.

What she published was a mystery adventure story set in the South that traced the attempt of a 12-year-old girl to avenge the death of her brother. It is often remarked that The Little Friend is the antithesis of her first novel but this was deliberate. Tartt says that she ‘found the best way of coping was to write a completely different kind of novel, different use of language and diction, different narrative technique, different approaches to story.’

Despite this dramatic shift, The Little Friend went on to win the WHSmith Literary Award and was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Women’s Prize for Fiction).

The Goldfinch (2013)

True to form, Tartt went back into hiding for another decade. During this time she pulled together The Goldfinch – a novel that has since been turned into a relatively unsuccessful movie.

In this epic coming-of-age story we follow 13-year-old Theodore Decker who, after surviving a terrorist bombing at an art museum, takes a small painting of a goldfinch home with him.  As with her previous two novels, The Goldfinch was well received and spent over 30 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list. It also won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Award for Excellence in Fiction.

Despite the before-mentioned accolades for all three novels, Tartt did and still does receive harsh criticism, especially for her most recent novel. Over time her work seems to be becoming more polarising among her peers. But, even with this criticism, Donna Tartt has been named one of TIME’s 100 Most Influential People and has been named one of the 1,000 Most Influential People in London by the Evening Standard.

I for one think she’s brilliant. She’s quite a character – funny, fizzy but also incredibly private. She chooses to hide away for entire decades to quietly work on her books. In her rare interviews she often explains that she agonises over every word choice and mindfully writes and re-writes every sentence. When interviewed about The Goldfinch she said ‘I couldn’t have written this book any faster, and for the last three or four years I was working at breakneck pace. Really I wasn’t writing a few lines before lunch and drifting off to do something else.’

So, when she finally does publish her next novel you can be rest assured that it has been genuinely crafted into perfection by her and her editor.

Have you read anything by Donna Tartt?

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