Donna Tartt is not what you would call a prolific writer. In fact, she only publishes one book a decade. Her debut novel, The Secret History, came out back in 1992 and was a great success. I absolutely loved it, it was dark, gripping and full of fascinating characters. She followed it up with The Little Friend ten years later. I read that one too, but it left me disappointed. Despite the intriguing opening, the book never really delivered. I felt that many of the characters were not fully developed, the storyline was flawed and the ending, in my view, was a letdown. If you look at the numerous reviews of it on Amazon and other websites, quite a few people felt the same way. Don't get me wrong, despite all its shortcomings, The Little Friend is still a well-written, enjoyable book, but it just lacks that magic that earned The Secret History so many fans.
It took Ms Tartt 11 years to complete her next novel and The Goldfinch was released at the end of 2013. I got a copy as soon as it came out and read it straight away, even though I have dozens of other books on my to-read list. At nearly 800 pages, it is not a quick read. But that is a good thing as far as I am concerned. This is Donna Tartt at her very best again. The Goldfinch is an exquisitely written book with beautifully crafted characters, it is compelling and thought-provoking, a real treat.
It tells the story of a young boy named Theo, whose life is torn apart by a tragic event, that has a profound and lasting emotional impact on him, haunting him for years. It also sets in motion a series of events that change the course of his life forever.
At the centre of the story there is also The Goldfinch, the famous painting by Dutch artist Carel Fabritius. In many ways, it is a book about our appreciation of art and the role of art in our lives. It is also, essentially, a coming- of-age story, one about loss, survivor's guilt, betrayal and obsession, but it is also about love, friendship and loyalty, all those things that help us through the hard times and give a true meaning to our lives.
So yes I think The Goldfinch is a great book, I cannot recommend it highly enough and Donna Tartt is definitely a very gifted storyteller. It may well take her another decade or so to write another book. In fact, she may never publish another novel. She is one of those writers who are all about quality, not quantity.
As for Fabritius' lovely painting that served as inspiration for Ms Tartt when she was writing this novel, it will go back on public display later this year at the Mauritshuis gallery in The Hague along with other gems of Dutch art. A very good reason to visit the Netherlands this summer if ever there was one.