Donna Tartt. Photo credit Beowulf Sheehan
Donna Tartt. Photo credit Beowulf Sheehan

Why not start the year off right by ingratiating yourself with the elite classicists of Hampden College, or the work of a Dutch master in the Seventeenth Century? Donna Tartt, a popular author amongst students, brings you these and more.

The Secret History, 1992

I hope we’re all ready to leave the phenomenal world, and enter into the sublime?

Yes? Ok.

Amongst the ivy-bricked, white-gabled university campus in autumnal Vermont, Richard Papen ingratiates himself with a dark, exclusive cult of Classics students under the scholarship of professor Julian Morrow. From linguistic genius Henry Winter to the beautifully drawn twins Camilla and Charles Macaulay, their hand-picked coterie obsesses with the refined beauty of the Classical world. Their beauty is epicene; it is harsh and menacing and the pursuit of it is Richard’s fatal flaw.

It begins with a murder, leaving you not with wonder about what will happen but apprehension for what will unfold. Fate is our chaperone through Richard’s brooding tale amongst the elite classicists, so bedevilled by the myths they study that they dangerously enact their own. It is littered with Greek and Latin sayings, punctuating and accelerating our anticipation to consider every event and occurrence that Richard comes across integral towards what we know to be their inescapable fate.

It is indeed a secret history; upon turning the front cover you are given membership into a select group. The Secret History‘s richly beautiful dark potential wraps you into a world where you do not question anything; Tartt holds you in such a way that to doubt it would be unimaginable. There is something about this book that so compels you in its brooding darkness that you are completely within the hold of its fate, and there is nothing you can do to stop it.

The Goldfinch, 2013

The Goldfinch, painted by the Dutch master Carel Fabritius in 1654, takes centre stage in Donna Tartt’s most recent novel. Following the growth and reversal of fortune of a thirteen year old orphan named Theo Decker, The Goldfinch has been described as ‘Dickensian’ in style, having similarities to Great Expectations.

The novel observes Theo’s life before and after the death of his beloved mother, exploring the complexities of his mental state; the relationships he develops with other characters as well as the education he receives throughout his life in both conventional and unconventional ways. The way in which the human condition deals with loss is explored in this book as Tartt focuses on Theo’s post-traumatic stress disorder that is the driving force of his character. He is portrayed as an innocent boy who is consistently dealt a bad hand in life, and therefore the cruelty of fate is central to the novel and the events that surround it.

The Goldfinch takes many twists, turns and swerves of fortune throughout, leaving the reader in many unfamiliar places from grungy drug dens in New York to the hot, emptiness of Las Vegas. Tartt’s wonderful sense of place is integral to the transition between settings as she describes the scrupulous detail of the surrounding environment microscopically, reflecting the meticulous detail one would attribute to the painting technique of a Dutch Master. The Goldfinch is a spectacular, captivating work that lingers in the mind long after turning the last page.

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