There is something indecently intimate about reading a novel. A good one. One written from the heart and from the intellect, not for profit or plaudits, but because, welled up or dragged, the words were waiting to be spilled.
Such books are confessionals, and the reader inhabits the author's mind, vicariously sharing their weaknesses and their aspirations, the abcess of innocence eroded and the terror of loneliness.
It is delicious to be a voyeur in such a shameless context. Blameless, because the writer has invited you in. Tremblingly vulnerable or shamelessly wanton, they have danced without veils for strangers. Such an undeserved gift always enchants.
When an unexpected insight or a dart of mischief captures my admiration, I cannot help turning again to the author's biography and photograph. (The envious 'same age as me' has morphed now to 'younger than me', with an unspoken codicil, 'how can someone so young understand so much?')
It is Donna Tartt that absorbs me at the moment. I am reading 'The Little Friend', the book that followed 'The Secret History' after a ten year interval. When pressed about the gap, Donna Tartt composedly remarked, "I have my life to resort to".
The thoughts and events in her book are not remote invention; she must have lived them in her mind, inhabiting at times a parallel world in which the routines of shopping and laundry and celebrations were the stuff of dreams (the voices in the front seat blurring into unintelligibility as you doze in a moving car). I look at her face in the flyleaf photo, cool and remote; the hint of a line at the corner of her mouth denoting either humour or asperity, and understand how obsessives can imagine connections with people they do not know.
I am not sure anyone has really bottomed out why writers write. Perhaps for the same reason that painters paint, composers compose and poets poet. But I can't help wondering if it is not from some deep-seated insecurity. The child in us crying out for attention and approbation; 'Mummy, Daddy, look what I've done'.
Whatever drives Donna, thank the Lord for it, and may she long go on "moving a comma round very happily for hours".