I’ve been getting into Donna Tartt, lately.
About a year ago, I read The Secret History and immediately knew it was something that I’d want to revisit. When I reread a book, I prefer to listen to the audiobook. Since I’ve already read it, it doesn’t matter if I miss a line or two, and it’s a nice relaxing way to entertain myself.
I didn’t think there was an audiobook version of The Secret History. Well, the library didn’t have it, so I figured I was out of luck, but a few weeks ago, I decided to get more serious about finding audiobook versions of my favorite books. I have a few of them on Audible from back when I didn’t mind paying for it, but I needed to branch out and move on. I found The Secret History on Hoopla, which is another library service. I’d only been using Libby before.
Donna Tartt reads it herself, which isn’t what I was expecting, but it always adds another layer when an author reads their own work. I’m fascinated with the juxtaposition of her Southern accent and the cold New England backdrop.
So, now I’m on my second listen in a row. Crazy? Maybe. It was Donna Tartt herself that encouraged me.
I watched her on Charlie Rose, and he asked her about what she read. She said that she mostly read the same books over and over again. She tried to elaborate on which books she read over and over again, but, of course, he cut her off and never let her get back to it.
We don’t care about your blathering, Charlie! We care about the award-winning, bestselling guest who rarely gives an interview! Geez.
Anyway, I thought, “Well, whatever she reads over and over again, I’ll get the second-hand influences by reading her books over and over again.”
In different interviews, she mentioned Charles Dickens, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Stephen King. She’s the second among my favorite authors to say that she learned how to construct a plot from Dickens. Tartt said it’s because Dickens doesn’t hide anything. His work is friendly and accessible.
I haven’t read any Dickens since high school (well, other than A Christmas Carol, which I read a few Christmasses ago), so I couldn’t tell you if that’s true. Regardless, I want to drink whatever she’s drinking.
I know that Donna Tartt isn’t for everyone. The detail alone could drive someone batty. Imagine a Hieronymus Bosch painting, only much more intricate and detailed and the size of a wall.
The establishment loves Donna Tartt, though, which is amazing for someone so commercially successful. They usually automatically hate anything popular because they think that means it’s low and common.
She’s exactly the kind of author they’d like, though. It’s clear how her work fits into the greater lexicon of literature. If you can imagine the history of writing as a river that stretches back to the first cave paintings, she’s part of that form. Her work will most likely be read far into the future because of that.
Her books are dense, I mentioned the Bosch painting for a reason, and they contain expert information. She comes off as the kind of person who got an old-fashioned education that only rich people got back when they didn’t have to learn a skill and had years to study whatever interested them—art, language, history. Academics love that stuff. They also love the white-shoe atmosphere that permeates her style.
It doesn’t hurt that she always shows up for interviews in a smart little suit and tie. She looks like one of her own characters. Where does she find suits small enough to fit her? Does she have them made? Does she shop in the little boys department?
Anyway, I read Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde over the weekend, and I really saw the influences in Tartt’s work. Everything Charles Dickens is in the public domain, so I’ve already downloaded several. Hoopla has a bunch of Dickens audiobooks, too, so I’m thinking about going that direction with it. I don’t know if I’ll be able to keep up with listening to the old-fashioned English and old audiobooks usually aren’t the best quality. The sound isn’t great, and the reading is often so over-the-top that I can’t take it.
The library also has The Goldfinch, which I originally read last fall, and I’ll obviously revisit that one again, too.
Despite the pedigree of her work, I still find it very indulgent. It’s similar to Jekyll and Hyde that way. It’s fun. It would be a guilty pleasure, if I were in the business of feeling guilty about what I read.
I don’t know if I should mention it, but on the opposite side of that, I ended up not finishing Detransistion, Baby. I felt like I ought to read it because I believe representation is important. I wanted to like it, but it just didn’t work for me. I can’t believe people’s biggest problem with it was that it was long-listed for the women’s prize and the author is trans. I had so many problems with the actual writing.
Oh well, I still have a pile of Dickens waiting for me.