In fact, anyone who can find a recent interview with her deserves a finder's fee. Maybe it's something in southerners' blood but the Mississippi-born writer, like her Alabama neighbour Harper Lee, keeps herself to herself. In fact, avoiding publicity seems to be a peculiarly American response to literary fame. J D Salinger was the emperor of recluses, achieving an almost monastic level of seclusion, but these days Thomas Pynchon is not far behind in invisibility, while the likes of Cormac McCarthy, even when cornered, refuses to talk. Why, indeed, should he? But for a writer such as Tartt, with such a small oeuvre and much of her career still lying ahead, the question is, has it done her any harm?
Judging by the column inches she has won for three fat books in 20 years, the answer is emphatically no. Even before she published her debut, The Secret History, this college friend of brat-pack superstar Brett Easton Ellis was being written about in superlatives, some of them justified. For that first book, Tartt gave a handful of interviews in which she revealed very little of a personal nature. Since then, however, she has almost wholly escaped the media circus. Following the success of her debut and its successor, The Little Friend, both of which have been published worldwide, she can no doubt afford to ignore the circuit. I expect less affluent novelists eye her with envy, feeling obliged - indeed, being gently reminded that they are morally obligated - to do the round of festivals, bookshops, libraries and radio stations in order to shift copies of their books.
The idea of being able to spend their time, as does Tartt, carefully fashioning a novel over a period of eight or ten years, must be the stuff of dreams for most writers, who are usually harassed on every side by publishers' deadlines and the demands of public appearances. The wonder then is not that it takes Tartt so long to write each book, but that those of her peers who live at the more punishing end of the publishing spectrum ever manage to finish one.
I was amused by Jonathan Franzen's recent rant against the ubiquity of social media, in which he admitted that when he hears of a writer he admires taking to twitter, he can't help feeling disappointed. He was also appalled that some agents won't take on new writers unless they have a sufficiently high twitter profile. A novelist I know says that she resists all attempts at grammar, punctuation or fine writing when tweeting and texting, because it depletes the part of her that is devoted to writing her books. Others, though, dread the thought that anything mundane or sloppy going out in their name, regardless of the medium, with the result that a tweet can take as long to compose as a sonnet, by which time the news agenda has long since passed on.
As for Tartt, I must say I admire her resolve to stay aloof. For some writers, self-promotion may be hard work, but it is also in some ways encouraging to meet readers, or fellow writers, and to be reminded that they are not the only ones pursuing a lonely occupation, and that there are people out there whose lives they are enriching. To look at the typical writer, however, whether today or in the past, is to stare into the eyes of those who generally like being alone, who prefer the company of their thoughts, or their imaginary characters, to the chatter of the real world.
Tartt is widely regarded as being a bit odd for managing to wriggle out of camera sights and journalists' claws, but for me she is simply a born novelist who needs to keep her mind free, and her life private. I don't think she's weird, or mysterious - just wise.