Donna Tartt likes to start her books with a death. In The Secret History (1992), the victim was a college student called Bunny. The prologue made it clear that our narrator had blood on his hands and the book’s structure – crime first, explanation later – suited the narrator’s obsession with classical notions of predetermination and fate. In Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend (2002), the opening image was of another body. On Mother’s Day in Sixties Mississippi, a nine-year-old boy is found ‘hanging by the neck from a piece of rope’.
In The Goldfinch, Tartt’s first novel for 11 years, the plot-enabling disaster is an explosion at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Our young narrator, Theo, manages to survive the blast, but his beloved mother is killed. The writing is wonderfully atmospheric here and the image of Theo staggering through the