17th Dec 2012
Bookish Birthdays: Donna Tartt
“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”
Donna Tartt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, on December 23rd, 1963. Her father, Don Tartt (a service station owner and local politician who once played in a rockabilly band) and mother Taylor (an executive secretary for the State Employment Commission) moved to the eastern delta town of Grenada soon after.
As a child, Tartt devoured classic adventure stories like Peter Pan and Kidnapped, cloistered among a large extended family of aunts, uncles and grandparents. She wrote her first poem aged five, while lying in front of the television. At thirteen, one of her sonnets was published in a Mississippi literary journal.
Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History – eight years in the making – focussed on a small, elitist group studying Ancient Greek. It is narrated by a fellow student who infiltrates the clique, only to discover that they have committed a murder as part of ritual bacchanal. In a review for Booklist, Donna Seaman described Tartt’s prose style as ‘flawless and enthralling’.
The Little Friend, Tartt’s second novel, was published in 2002. Its main protagonist is a 12 year-old girl who lives among her eccentric relatives in a small Mississippi town. Clever and lonely, she becomes obsessed with her brother’s unsolved murder. Bookslut’s Maud Newton judged it ‘a much more mature and well-rounded novel than her first.’
Galleycat has reported that Donna is writing her third novel, although a publication date has not yet been set. It is described as ‘a story of loss and obsession about a young man, guilt-stricken and damaged after the death of his mother, and the growing power that a stolen piece of art exercises over him, drawing him into an underworld of theft and corruption where nothing is as it seems.’
Tartt has lived in New York for many years, and contrary to rumour, is far from being a recluse. ‘The obsessive quality I have with my work—well, this is why my books take so long to write,’ she told author Tom De Haven recently.
‘But this obsessive quality is also why I don’t get discouraged and give up—how I can keep myself completely entertained writing a book for a decade. I’m near the end of my third book and honestly I only get more interested in it as I go along—on some level I’ll be very sorry to finish it.’
2012 marks the twentieth anniversary of The Secret History’s release, and Donna Tartt seems more elusive than ever. Katherine Viner, who interviewed Donna for The Guardian in 2002, found her ‘fizzy and funny’, but also wondered ‘if this myth-making and mysterious self-creation are to protect the creative process, or are just her being a storyteller.’