Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Donna Tartt, the Goldfinch is upon us

Tension is rising. August will be the moment for the Dutch, October for the rest of the world. Finally, Donna Tartt's much anticipated novel Goldfinch will hit the bookstores. And like The Little Friend, it will debut in The Netherlands. This will be ms. Tartt's water shedding and defining novel. Because there's much at stake for us, Tartt aficionados. Will the enigma author once again thrill and enlighten us, like she did with her debut novel The Secret History?

Beauty comes in unexpected packages. You never know where and when it hits you. The Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna left me dumbstruck in all its unexpected, playful and surprising creativity. Can a building play with your senses? You bet it can. Van Gogh's Japanese cherry blossom kept me focused, I kept staring at it. Even Newman's Who's afraid of red, yellow and blue has an intriguing tension when you know something about graphic design.

But we are talking books here. Truman Capote's In Cold Blood is one of the two decisive novels in my literary education. A fascinating insight in the minds and lives of two small town guys who murdered an entire family – no fiction there, but a true story. I am fan of American naturalist authors to begin with. Steinbeck, Updike and Cheever are among my favorites, but Capote is the master. It takes a special talent to write compelling novels, that do not tap on the reader's emotional reserves, but that grab your attention simply by the greatness of the author's writing skills. 

A ruptured Achilles tendon, a casket, and nothing much to do. Here, read this, someone said. And gave me The Secret History. I opened the book, started reading and from page one I was hooked. I will not describe the plot - google or wiki for this - but in my humble opinion, it is a masterpiece, definetely the best novel I ever read. Intelligently written, set in a classic academic world, and Donna Tartt shows her greatness by weaving a clever layer into the story. The perception of time and era is missing at the beginning of the novel, but only becomes more apparent the more narrator Richard Papen's mood changes, and his awareness and suspicions grow. It all culminates in a harsh reality where initial enchantment and happiness has given way to disappointment and shock.

A great novel for sure. Am I the only one who loved it? Well, just in The Netherlands alone 800,000 people ran to the bookstores to buy a copy. Reason for ms. Tartt to grant the Hans Brinker people the premiere of her next novels. Now, the only problem is that ms. Tartt is not a very productive author. It took more then ten years before she finished her second one. Maybe we should envy her pace of life, but it is a mighty long wait. People go through cars, marriages and divorces and two career changes before the next Tartt arrives. I was lucky though. I ruptured my Achilles heel in 1999, so I read The Secret History seven years after it was published. For me, the wait was not too long.

It's 2002. Enter The Little Friend. Ms. Tartt's long overdue second novel, a massive one at that with more then 500 pages. To cut it short, it was a letdown. The plot takes too long to unfold and 100 or even more pages of introduction is too much to bare for most of us. So many sidelines, so many characters make for a constructed and artificial plot. And above all, there's that unsatisfactory ending. Written from the perspective of a young child, the novel reaches its end when the girl realizes that the person she focused on, was after all not the one who could have murdered her little brother years ago. And that's where it ends, leaving questions unanswered. Students often add pages to their papers, to make it look better. And it seems that this was just what ms. Tartt did.

So, it will all depend on The Goldfinch. Maybe it will carry me away, let me forget The Little Friend, and Donna Tart will simply underline what I think she is. One of the most brilliant authors of today. But suppose that it won't be in the same league as The Secret History? A second Little Friend? Leaving The Secret History as an isolated masterpiece? Ms. Tartt, please do no disappoint me.