menu Language Is A Virus

Donna Tartt returns with a new novel, ten years on from The Secret History

Panel: Jeanette Winterson, Rosie Boycott, Paul Morley, Kirsty Wark, BBC News, Programmes, Newsnight, October 25, 2002

(Edited highlights of the panel's review)

I liked The Secret History and I like this. It isn't art and it isn't literature. It's a thriller with attitude, but it shows no linguistic effort. There are no beautiful sentences and many poor ones. It has little imagination. It doesn't have a special voice, unlike a Martin Amis or Ali Smith novel. It will make a wonderful 90 minute film.

Five hundred pages of flat prose is a lot to put up with. The ten years in between the books makes no difference. In this glib age, a mystery attaches itself to silence, so we think something that takes a long time must be of value, but in the end what you get is what you have to look at and I am not excited by this.

Although we should read 19th century novels, we shouldn't write them. Fiction has moved on. This is great to read on an aeroplane, but it's not doing anything exciting with art and it's not transformative.

The chase at the end was quite scary, but overall I felt it was an unsatisfactory book.

I remember reading The Secret History and thinking how good she was writing about drugs and alcohol. In this case, the Ratliffs make speed and she writes well about people taking too many drugs, but it's all there is. There wasn't enough to sustain me through 538 pages and the book doesn't really end.

There are many poor sentences and it needs more plot and action. I thought The Secret History was a much better book. You would think The Little Friend was the first novel.

She describes living people as if they are ghosts and in such detail you can't help being overwhelmed, but slightly unmoved. It was Enid Blyton's Famous Five meets Deliverance.

The best thing about Donna Tartt is the way she has created her own fictional character. The novel needed to come eventually in order to maintain the fictional character of Donna Tartt.

It doesn't matter what the book is or how it reads. It's like embroidery - it goes on and on and it's beautifully done, in the sense that it's achieved, but then it just stops. Maybe the advance ran out.

It's hard to write about children from a child's perspective, and with the characters of Harriet and Heli, I think she manages that very well. She gets inside their skin. People say she is Harriet, of course.

Yes, in a "Blyton-esque" sense. The description of Harriet as a small badger with round cheeks, a sharp nose, black hair bobbed short - it is Donna Tartt. She has created a twelve year old girl who is preparing to write the book she wrote.

But there is no development in that character which is annoying. The Harriet we begin with is the Harriet we end with. There is no transformation or moment of consciousness where things either fall apart or come together.

+ + + Comments + + +