The Orange Prize Shortlisted Author InterviewThe Orange Prize Shortlisted Author Interview
What sparked The Little Friend?
Donna Tartt: My novels aren't really generated by a single conceptual spark; it's more a process of many different elements that come together unexpectedly over a long period of time. It's a rather dreamlike and unconscious process that's probably not wise to examine or analyze too closely.
Both The Little Friend and The Secret History centre around murders the perpetrator(s) of which escape the criminal justice system. To what extent is this a device used to maintain tension in the narrative, and to what extent is it about challenging our contemporary fascination with murderers, and throwing the focus onto the victims: the murdered, their families and friends?
Donna Tartt: I'm not sure whay I've been drawn to this subject, except that murder is a subject that has always drawn people for as long as people have been telling stories. I'm not so interested in the act of murder as in the echoes and repercussions of the act, and how they play out over time.
Gum - Grandma Ratliff - is extraordinary, as is the devotion she inspires in her grandson Farish. Where did she spring from and, what made you choose to endow her with such superhuman resilience?
Donna Tartt: Character, to me, is the life's blood of fiction. I love the tradition of Dickens, where even the most minor walk-on characters are twitching and particular and alive. For a novelist to create character, I think, takes a sharp objective eye but also an intuitive intelligence, a receptiveness, a wilingness to make oneself blank in order to percieve things as they actually are. People are endlessly different. The trick of creating character is to try to see all people, even unsympathetic ones, without projecting one's own personality and values on them.
I've noticed that several people who've interviewed you recently seemed keen to draw inferences about you and your childhood from Harriet's experiences in The Little Friend. Why is it, do you think, that people so often read fiction as autobiography?
Donna Tartt: The job of the novelist is to invent: to embroider, to color, to embellish, to make things up. If I've fooled people into thinking that a work of imagination is autobiographical or somehow "real," then I've done my job as an artist.
What are you working on now?
Donna Tartt: I just finished writing an essay about William Maxwell, an American writer whose work I admire very much.
The Orange Prize for Fiction is currently garnering votes for the 50 Best Books written by Women. Which novel by a woman would you like to nominate for our list?
Donna Tartt: Frankenstein by Mary Shelley.
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