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Peter Hapak for TIME

It was 10 years between The Secret History and The Little Friend, and then we had to wait 12 years for The Goldfinch. Where does Donna Tartt go all that time? Why do we never hear from her? Well, actually, I do hear from her because she’s my friend, and so I can tell you: she’s been working. For The Goldfinch, she constructed an enormous stage of art and violence, unspeakable beauty and staggering loss, then she lit the place up with her brilliance. While we’ve been carrying on with our lives, Donna has given herself over to the lives of her characters. If she took a break in the past 12 years, I don’t remember it. She could have easily made the Time 100 list for her tireless ability to work, but instead she wins this honor, and a Pulitzer Prize, for the finished product of her years of labor, this masterpiece of a novel.

Patchett, a best-selling novelist and essayist, is the co-owner of Parnassus Books in Nashville

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