Top positive review
127 people found this helpful
Alternates between gripping and slow
on 26 October 2002
The Little Friend is Donna Tartt's long awaited second novel after The Secret History. Though it shares a dense prose style with the earlier book, it is quite different in atmosphere and setting. A twelve year old girl, Harriet, spends a summer in the 1970s trying to find out who killed her brother Robin 12 years before. She has her own ideas about who is reponsible and with her friend Hely she sets about proving her suspicions. But what starts out as a fairly simple idea becomes ever more complicated, due to the large intertwining cast of characters around Harriet. She finds herself buffeted about by the adults around her. This is no simple whodunnit. It is a book about moving from childhood innocence towards maturity and adulthood, something Harriet has been dreading as she looks on her approaching puberty with horror. It is also a book about morality, and actions and consequences. But perhaps more than anything it is a book about family, an old southern family torn apart by the grief that still haunts them twelve years after the death of their golden child. They are living in the era after the civil rights movement, when people have had to adapt to new ways of living, and yet the traditional racism is still evident in the relationships between the book's family and their black housekeepers, which Harriet witnesses in shame and anger.The pacing of this book is up and down. Gripping at times, but slow in other places due to long dense sections of description, sometimes beautifully written, other times wearing and dull. The last hundred pages or so are hard to put down, and there are a number of tense, dramatic and somtimes darkly humorous scenes right through the book. The character of Harriet is extremely well drawn, and sympathetic, as is her friend Hely and the Ratliff family. Is The Little Friend as good as The Secret History? It lacks the first book's focus. As a novel centred on a young southern girl and a murder it also doesn't live up to Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. But it is nevertheless a good novel, painted on a wider and more ambitious canvas than the first book.