By Donna Tartt
Little, Brown, 2013, London
This novel is a real challenge. It is not for the faint-hearted, depicting as it does, the dysfunctional youth culture which gave us tragedies as far apart as that of Philip Seymour Hoffman and the invasion of rural Ireland by the silly, and for some, self-destructive fad of “neknomination” – and all the aberrations of the post-modern adult world in which they have their roots.
Hoffman, a 46-year-old actor, was found dead in his New York apartment after injecting himself with a dose of Ace of Spades, a lethal mix of heroin and a powerful anti-cancer drug which has already claimed dozens of lives. There has been a huge rise in heroin use in the United States, and particularly the boosted materials like Ace of Spades – used by the young, the affluent and the middle class. On the other side of the Atlantic two Irish lives were sacrificed on the altar of youth hedonism in the latest instance of the ‘neknomination’ game. The craze originally began in Australia and involves social media users ‘downing’ drinks – which are sometimes lethal cocktails – on camera, before nominating a friend to do the same.
But despite its depiction of this disturbing contemporary American underworld this is a superb novel. If its author tells us that the reason it took her 11 years to write it is that this is how long takes her to do justice to what she wants to write, then we will take her at her word. Our regret is that it probably means that we will only get two or three more novels of this quality in her writer’s lifetime. She began her first novel, The Secret History, at 19 years of age and finished it about ten years later in 1992. The next, The Little Friend, appeared in 2002. Both of these have been translated into over thirty languages. They are both great books but neither of them rises to the level of transcendence of The Goldfinch.
Read the full review, posted to MercatorNet this morning.