There’s no denying Tartt’s talent. Her ability to evoke such a range of characters puts her into another league to so many novelists who can’t help but stereotype. She does have one or two – Roy Dial, for example, is dismissed superficially (as are the only other church workers we meet) – but overwhelmingly Tartt paints impressively dimensioned characters. I hesitated to label this a ‘crime’ novel: it has several definitive elements, however (to drop a nasty cliché) the journey is far more important than the destination. She does frame her setting around murders and revenge, but they mainly serve to create contexts for us to see the gulf between various social units making up a town, and the extraordinarily different consciousness they bring to their interactions.
Tartt does present some characters more positively than others, but there’s a lot of description where you can make your own judgements. She doesn’t feel the need to tie everything up neatly for us, so much while there is enough resolution to give structural coherence, much of the book feels like a picture of a particular slice of time and place, where some stories finish, others start, and some just meander on. While it eventually settles, it’s initially disorienting as the spotlight moves around to linger on this or that character – just who exactly is the story focussed on? However this ultimately makes the later interactions all the more rich – we know such much more about what would normally be minor characters.
I did find the going a bit tough for a while – I think it was the steady misanthropy of so many pages. This seemed particularly strong at the funeral – it seems everybody there is petty and vile. I wasn’t sure whether this was more an unconscious reflection of Tartt’s world view, or a deliberate presentation of Harriet’s contemptuous lens. Either way, I didn’t really enjoy the company of many of the folks who made up this book, no matter how ably and fascinatingly portrayed. Action isn’t going to carry you either: most of the book is action free, but there are a few highly dramatic incidents along the way, and even a bit of a classic thriller climactic scene.
I’d be interested to read some more of this author, particularly to find out how much of the perspective was hers or Harriet’s.