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When Donna Tartt published her first novel, The Secret History, in 1992 I was smitten. For me, she had written the perfect book—one that appealed to me on every level—the setting (college in New England), the characters (intellectuals with a dark side), the plot (taught psychological drama), and exquisite language that made me read slowly to savor every word.
Her next book, The Little Friend, was not published until a decade later, and while still demonstrating considerable skill, didn’t speak to me in a satisfying way (meth addicts and way too many snakes).
However, her new novel, The Goldfinch, which is one of the most buzzed-about novels of the year, is so far surpassing my expectations. While I’m only about 75 pages into it, I keep pausing about every three pages to wonder if Ms. Tartt made a bargain with the devil. How else could she create a novel that is so spellbinding from the first page? My husband assures me that the novel holds up until the end, and I look forward to languishing over every word (all 771 pages).
Reading such a masterpiece makes me think of other books that are big and meaty and manage to deliver what so few books can—that magical recipe of setting, character, plot and language that makes it a perfect read. The following books come to mind (annotations are from NoveList):
The Falls by Joyce Carol Oates
Follows the interconnected and secretive lives of parents and their children when they are challenged by circumstances outside their family, in a tale set against a backdrop of Niagara Falls in the mid-twentieth century.
The Cider House Rules by John Irving
The practices of Dr. Wilbur Larch--obstetrician, orphanage director, ether addict, and abortionist--are hindered, abetted, and continued, in turn, by his favorite orphan, Homer Wells.
The Adventures of Kavelier and Clay by Michael Chabon
In 1939 New York City, Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Hitler's Prague, joins forces with his Brooklyn-born cousin, Sammy Clay, to create comic-book superheroes inspired by their own fantasies, fears, and dreams.
On Green Dolphin Street by Sebastian Faulks
In 1960, Mary van der Linden, a loyal wife and mother approaching forty, moves with her family from London to Washington, D.C., where she escapes her narrow world for the larger issues of politics and the Cold War with the help of Frank, a New York journalist
Which books have satisfied you on every level?