Books

Pulitzer prize for fiction goes to 'The Goldfinch'

Alison Flood

Donna Tartt's huge book, 11 years in the writing, wins the honour for "beautifully written ... novel with exquisitely drawn characters".

Pulitzer prize for fiction winner 2014 Donna Tartt. (Beowulf Sheehan)

Donna Tartt has won the Pulitzer award for fiction for her third novel The Goldfinch, which judges described as a book which "stimulates the mind and touches the heart".

Relating the life of a 13-year-old boy who survives an accident that kills his mother, The Goldfinch was chosen as the winner of America's most prestigious literary award ahead of Philipp Meyer's The Son, and Bob Shacochis's The Woman Who Lost Her Soul. It is, said judges Art Winslow, Ron Charles and Sabina Murray, "a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters".

Tartt's win of the $100 000 award puts The Goldfinch alongside former winners including The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck – 75 years old this week – Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell, The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and, last year, The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson. It is the American author's third novel, after her bestselling debut The Secret History, and 2002's The Little Friend.

She told USA Today that she was "very happy and very delighted" to win the award – her first major literary prize – and also "surprised". Why surprised, asked the American paper. "Wouldn't you be surprised?" replied the author, who also noted that the reason it took her 11 years to finish The Goldfinch was because "it's a long book".

Also shortlisted for the Baileys prize for women's fiction, The Goldfinch has drawn mixed reviews. While the New York Times described it as "a novel that pulls together all [Tartt's] remarkable storytelling talents into a rapturous, symphonic whole and reminds the reader of the immersive, stay-up-all-night pleasures of reading", in the UK, the Sunday Times found that "no amount of straining for high-flown uplift can disguise the fact that The Goldfinch is a turkey".

Tartt writes about how, following the death of his mother in a terrorist bombing, teenager Theo is taken in by the family of a rich friend, and how. As he grieves, he focuses on a small picture of a bird – Dutch artist Carel Fabritius's 17th century painting – which reminds him of her.

Monday night's Pulitzer award ceremony also saw Alan Taylor's look at slavery and war in Virginia in the late 18th and early 19th century, The Internal Enemy, win the history award, Megan Marshall's take on the life of Margaret Fuller win the biography award and Dan Fagin's Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation take the general non-fiction gong.

Vijay Seshadri's 3 Sections, described by judges as "a compelling collection of poems that examine human consciousness, from birth to dementia, in a voice that is by turns witty and grave, compassionate and remorseless", won the poetry Pulitzer. – © Guardian News & Media 2014

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