'There’s a great description of a gun by someone who has never held one before in Donna Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. They find it eerily defamiliarised, with “a smooth density that blackly distorted the space around it like a drop of motor oil in a glass of water.” I like it so much, I bring it up over lunch with the author at Manhattan’s Union Square Café, a swanky downtown restaurant much frequent by the city’s publishers and literary types. Around us, waiters in crisp white shirts ferry plates to waiting diners, illuminated in tastefully-muted light.
“If someone put a gun on the table between us it would be very defamiliarised,” says Tartt, with undisguised glee at the thought. “Its one thing to see it on the screen but if someone really had one here” — her voice rises high with childish excitement — “ if our waiter pulled a gun on us it we would see it in an entirely different way. It’s about that tear in the fabric of reality.” For a second, the though occurs that maybe our waiter will pull a Beretta from the champagne box and, with two sharp retorts, leave small red round holes in our foreheads that leave us slumped on the table. But he doesn’t. Instead he lays our pasta dishes ceremoniously on the table, and departs without a word.
Such is lunch with Donna Tartt that one’s primary disappointment is not being shot. It has been 20 years since The Secret History, Tartt’s global mega-bestseller about a group of classics students committing murder in the name of art in upstate Vermont. Now 49, Tartt still wears her hair in a shiny Louise Brooks bob, and buttons her shirts to the top crocheted button. Her skin is white and clear, an emerald ring picking out the green of her eyes, with which alight on you with a beady, birdlike fixity that would be unsettling were it not for the perky Mississippi twang with which she engages you in conversation. Mordant, amused, chirpy, the overall effect is part Edith Sitwell, part Wednesday Addams, or Mrs Danvers’ prettier, perkier sister.'