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Donna Tartt Books In Order

Publication Order of Standalone Novels

The Secret History (1992) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Little Friend (2002) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle
The Goldfinch (2013) Hardcover  Paperback  Kindle


Donna Tartt is a US author. She was born in Greenwood in Mississippi in 1953 and she studied at Bennington College in Vermont. Later, Tartt went on to study classics and English literature at the University of Mississippi (having enrolled there in 1981). Whilst at university, she studied alongside several other American novelists, including Bret Easton Ellis. Tartt began writing short stories at an early age – her writing caught the attention of her professors at university from the very beginning. She later progressed to writing longer novels, many of which quickly became bestsellers. Tartt won several prestigious awards for her writing, including the Pulitzer Prize. She has claimed that her key literary influences include George Orwell and JD Salinger. Tartt is often regarded as something of a mysterious author, and not least because each of her first three novels were separated by time spans of around a decade.

Books written by Donna Tartt.

Donna Tartt has written numerous novels, most of which were published by Alfred A. Knopf. Her first novel was ‘The Secret History’, which was published in 1992. This was followed by ‘The Little Friend’ and ‘The Goldfinch’. She has also published several non fiction articles in magazines, and a number of short stories. Tartt’s first short story was ‘Tam O’Shanter’, published in 1993 in The New Yorker. ‘The Little Friend’ is a dark story about children who come into contact with the sinister aspects of the adult world in a way that continues to impact on them for the rest of their lives. It centers around a young female protagonist whose brother is killed by hanging, and it traces her anxiety as she tries to come to terms with this and other things that happen to her along the way. All of Tartt’s novels have been highly praised. Let us take a closer look at two of Tartt’s most famous works, ‘The Secret History’ and ‘The Goldfinch’.

‘The Secret History’.

This book is based at Bennington College in Vermont where, as has been mentioned above, Tartt herself studied. The book is both a literary novel and a classic murder mystery, blending classical scholarship with a sense of ‘whodunnit?’ suspense. In this novel, a group of classics students attempt to recreate an ancient and bloody Dionysian ritual. The result is the murder of the most vulnerable member of the group, a man called Bunny. The narrator of ‘The Secret History’ is a man called Richard Papen, and as the book opens several years have passed since the murder. Thus, ‘The Secret History’ involves Papen looking back on the devastating events of the past. Papen was, at Bennington College, somewhat of an outsider. However, he became fascinated with a close knit group of friends who included Bunny, a pair of twins called Charles and Camilla, a wealthy young man named Francis and a ‘genius’ named Henry. Soon, the group’s penchant for teasing Bunny becomes something more sinister. As Papen gets closer to the group of friends, and even gets invited to spend time with them during vacations, he discovers other dark secrets that they are harboring – such as incest between Charles and Camilla. All in all, this is a book that can be described as a literary thriller: suspenseful, bloody and gripping. The book’s title comes from an ancient Greek book by the author Procopius. The title of Procopius’ book translates to ‘The Secret History’. This work dealt with secret rituals, many of which were erotic in nature. As such, there are obvious overlaps with Tartt’s work, which Tartt was happy to be open about.

‘The Secret History’ is a book that examines the power of elites and cliques, as well as their endless fascination to the outsider. The reader gets to experience this through Papen’s fascination with a close knit clique of friends. The book also explores the alluring power of knowledge – both literary and classical knowledge and the forbidden knowledge that comes from forbidden deeds such as incest and murder.

‘The Goldfinch’.

‘The Goldfinch’ is another gripping novel, though it was published around 20 years after ‘The Secret History’. The Goldfinch follows the fortunes of a male narrator called Theodore who is caught in a bomb blast whilst visiting a museum with his mother as a young boy. His mother tragically dies in the blast, and the young narrator steals a priceless painting: ‘The Goldfinch’ by Carel Fabritius. The rest of the novel follows Theodore’s life as he attempts to hide the painting he has stolen. It follows his love for a young woman who was also caught up in the blast, and his friendship with her grandfather.Theo lives for a while with a wealthy family called The Barbours, however he later moves to LA with his once-estranged father and there strikes up a friendship with a young man called Boris. It is this friendship with Boris that, in the world of the novel, leads to the narrator’s life taking a very unexpected turn, which is only fully revealed towards the end of the novel. Boris calls Theodore by the nickname ‘Potter’, after JK Rowling’s famous book character Harry Potter. As the theft of the painting weighs heavily on Theodore’s soul, the novel twists and turns towards a very unexpected conclusion.

This book can be thought of as forming a very loose part of a series with ‘The Secret History’ because one of the main characters of ‘The Secret History’, Francis Abernathy, also appears briefly in ‘The Goldfinch’. Tartt won the Pulitzer Prize for ‘The Goldfinch’, and it was hailed as a great success. This book was long awaited because, after Tartt published ‘The Little Friend’, she did not write another novel until ‘The Goldfinch’ appeared 11 years later. ‘The Goldfinch’ can be described generically as a Bildungsroman. Originating in Germany in the eighteenth century, the Bildungsroman was a genre of novel that focused on a main character who grows up as the novel progresses. This is certainly true of ‘The Goldfinch’ as in it we see Theodore grow from childhood to adulthood. Though his path through life is often a very difficult and tragic one, it can be said that in the final passages of the book he has truly matured in his world view and his way of acting.

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