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116 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alternates between gripping and slow
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...
Published on 26 Oct 2002

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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing read
I kept reading this only in the hope that it would get better. I admired Donna Tartt's first novel very much and can't begin to express my disappointment with this one: a creaky, naïve plot that starts off brilliantly and evaporates into tedium. No structure that I can see and not a single character one could identify with. Literary novels can get away with a lot if the...
Published 12 months ago by Lynn Eldridge


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116 of 119 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Alternates between gripping and slow, 26 Oct 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Little Friend (Hardcover)
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.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A UNIQUELY PERSONAL READING, 25 Nov 2002
By 
Gail Cooke (TX, USA) - See all my reviews
(TOP 500 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Little Friend (Audio CD)
Donna Tartt, novelist, essayist, critic, and author of the blockbuster "The Secret History" brings a uniquely personal understanding to her reading of "The Little Friend."

A richly imagined story of familial ties and the pursuit of truth, Ms. Tartt's latest offering is sure to bring additional plaudits. No doubt, readers and listeners will find it well worth the decade long wait since Ms. Tartt's superlative debut novel. When asked why it took her ten years to write "The Little Friend," the author replied in part, "There's an expectation these days that novels - like any other consumer product - should be made on a production line, with one dropping from the conveyor belt every couple of years. But it's for every writer to decide his own pace, and the pace varies with the writer and the work.......When I was young, I was deeply struck by a piece of advice that John Gardner gave to beginning writers: ‘Write as if you have all eternity.' This is the last thing a publisher or an agent or an accountant would tell you, but it's the best advice in the world if you want to write beautiful, well-made books. And that's what I want to do. I'd rather write one good book than ten mediocre ones."
It would seem that Ms. Tartt is incapable of penning even a mediocre phrase, as her latest story attests - it is compelling, and memorable.
Nine-year-old Robin Cleve Dufresnes is found dead, hanging from a tupelo tree in his family's yard. Harriet was a mere baby when her brother's body was discovered, and his killer has never been found.
The boy's death virtually destroyed his mother who has turned inward and become a recluse; his father disappeared from the community where this tragedy occurred. Thus, Harriet and another sister, Allison, have been left to grow very much on their own. Their lives have been overseen by a black maid and a coterie of female relative, including a stern grandmother.
Twelve-year-old Harriet determines to catch her brother's murderer, deciding that it is Danny Ratliff. After all he comes from a family of down-at-the-heels criminals. Harriet and her good friend, Hely, begin to stalk the Ratliffs, a tactic which leads them into great danger.
Set in 1970s Mississippi, "The Little Friend" underscores the author's considerable gifts, not the least of which are her command of language, elegant prose, and mastery of suspense.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mesmerising, 10 Nov 2009
By 
bkkmei (London, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Little Friend (Paperback)
Be aware: this isn't The Secret History.

But it is a very evocative book that reminded me simultaneously of To Kill a Mockingbird (a story told from a child's point of view) and Fargo (farcial criminals).

Twelve year old Harriet, fierce and determined, sets out to find the murderer of her older brother who died when she was a baby. Latching on to snippets of information, she sets her sights on Danny, a drugged-up-to-the-eyeballs criminal. Following him, haunting him, she can't see the consequences of her impulsive actions.

It's a self-indulgently long book, yet I couldn't stop reading it. The characters are richly individual. The setting of Mississippi was interesting - for a while I had a hard time figuring out the time period of the book. But what was particularly evocative for me was the long summer holiday - hot seemingly endless days, not much to do, kids looking for excitement...

Don't expect non-stop thrills, or an enthralling plot-line. It's a slow-burn, a twisting journey, beautifully written. I'm happy to have read it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Haunting, vivid, unputdownable, 11 Aug 2004
This review is from: The Little Friend (Hardcover)
Excellent. The characters, the town, the society, are depicted beautifully, the whole atmosphere "breathes", you feel the heat, you share the characters'feelings, you have to laugh with the incredible squalor and horror of the Ratliff family, you have to love little Hely who is so much "inferior" to the nightmarish little girl, Harriet. I was steeped in the story, the marvellous writing.
BUT the Bloomsbury paper back edition I read, had very small print,as a result I had to read the whole book using a magnifying lense! Isn't there any hardcover with decent print left?
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A curate's egg of a novel, 15 Dec 2002
By 
David Winsor (Nottingham, England.) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Little Friend (Hardcover)
I have just finished reading Donna Tartt's latest novel. I ts a work which borders on true greatness at times and it specialises in the superbly effective set-piece situation. Readers will never forget the horror of the loose snakes in The Mission, the eerie tranquility of Harriet's scanning of her neighbour's houses through the telescopic sight of a hunting rifle and the nerve-jangling tension of the climactic scene in the water tower.
Between these obvoius highlights the novel sucks you in, wraps around you and plunges you into the claustrophobic insularity of Mississippi in high summer. Yes, the characterization of Ida, Tatty and Eugene, for example, could be sharper and more obviously individualized but to denigrate the overall work on this account would be to miss the more subtle ironies of a clever creation. We have the child/adult world views painfully juxtaposed and, I think, we have a profound meditation upon the nature of retributive justice and recalled memory
Harriet is one of the more memorable creations in modern fiction, a dark, contemplative and driven little person who maybe shares some of the author's own life experiences.She will live with the reader long after the book has been read.
I recommend 'The Little Friend' as a gripping and thought-provoking read. It achieves what all good fiction should-that feeling of complete immersion and the knowledge that we are in the company of a writer who has an important tale to tell.
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47 of 53 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One of the best books of the year, 1 Nov 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Little Friend (Hardcover)
Donna Tartt obviously faced a potentially difficult task living up to the expectations generated for her second book by the success of the first - the astonishing Secret History - and the ten year wait only heightened the hype, and the potential fall. However, she has once again delivered a quietly stunning read.
This time, rather than the rarefied elegance of Hampden College, and the beautiful but alien setting of Vermont, she chooses the more familiar fictional landscape of the South - the gothic, Faulkner-esque South - as a backdrop, and the elements of the plot are appropriately dark - the decaying family, the shadows cast by a tragic death. But, while elements in the novel are familiar and carry echoes of literary heritage, the story is never predictable (inevitable, possibly; but predictable, no) and her writing is neither pretentious, portentous, nor dull. There are of course parallels that can be drawn with The Secret History - the hero/heroine as outsider, the wildness and rage lurking just below a civilised veneer - but as this is obviously destined for many a Lit. class and companion study notes let's leave the detailed analysis for now.
I started this - and it is a huge tome, with surprisingly small print - late at night, intending just to read a few pages, and several chapters later was still glued to it. Her ear for dialogue and ability to sketch the off-beat quirks of day-to-day existence round the margins of a gripping story is still as strong as ever. Absolutely unmissable: bound to become a classic.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A disappointing read, 12 Dec 2013
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This review is from: The Little Friend (Kindle Edition)
I kept reading this only in the hope that it would get better. I admired Donna Tartt's first novel very much and can't begin to express my disappointment with this one: a creaky, naïve plot that starts off brilliantly and evaporates into tedium. No structure that I can see and not a single character one could identify with. Literary novels can get away with a lot if the writing is good, but I felt Donna Tartt had had a succession of 'off' days with this one and the book had never quite recovered. Sorry..
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping narrative, superb writing, 23 Oct 2007
By 
Wynne Kelly "Kellydoll" (Coventry, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Little Friend (Paperback)
Harriet is haunted by the childhood death of her brother Robin and vows to find and punish the murderer. Set in a Mississippi summer - you can feel the heat and dust. The maid Ida Rhew suggests perpetrator is local "white trash" Danny Ratcliffe and Harriet begins to follow him and his brothers. Danny and his elder brother are drug dealers and another brother Eugene is a trainee preacher, hoping to learn to use poisonous snakes in his sermons.

There is a whole range of weird and wonderful characters - some could be straight out of a Coen brothers' film.

Racism of the time is dealt with with subtlety (dismissal of Ida Rhew, sacking of Hely's housekeeper, failure to tell Libby's maid that Libby had died)

Gripping narrative, superb writing and great characterisations. I loved The Secret History, but think this is a better book.

I first got to know this book as an audiobook. It was beautifully read and great to listen to.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Biggest Disappointment of my Life, 3 Jun 2003
By A Customer
This review is from: The Little Friend (Hardcover)
Having relished every page of The Secret History, it was a painful 10 year wait for Tartt's follow up. Having got hold of my copy on the day of its release, I prepared to "enter in to the sublime". If only.
Tartt's sun bleached southern landscape, and unengaging characters were in such stark contract to the freshness and originality of her debut novel, I struggled to believe I was reading the same author. From the farcical redneck "bad guys", to the black stereotypes and wet family members, there seemed to be no single character in this entire story whom I wanted to know any better.
While the length of the Secret History made it like spending a long weekend with a dear friend, the Little Friend was more like a dull house guest who had overstayed its welcome. I couldn't find any strand of this story line interesting enough to cling too as I waded through it. While the quality of Tartt's prose is still a pleasure to read, it wasn't enough to bring life to this otherwise crashing bore of story.
If your curiosity really does get the better of you, please don't pay full price for this book. You'll regret it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Fading colonial grandeur meets brooding hillbilly poverty, 4 Dec 2009
By 
Trevor Coote "Trevor Coote" (Tahiti, French Polynesia) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Little Friend (Hardcover)
Fans of Donna Tartt's first novel The Secret History had to wait ten years for her second to appear. It was well worth the wait, though, because The Little Friend is an altogether more mature and authentic work. The setting is switched from an elite college in the mountains of New England to the steamy decay of backwater Mississippi, an extraordinary feat of adjustment. All the components are in place for this epic slice of Southern Gothic: mosquito-infested swamps, gun-toting rednecks, racial antagonism, Cajuns and Klansmen, Southern Baptists and rattlesnakes.
The story centres on Harriet Cleve Dufresnes, a feisty and independent-minded young girl from a declining Southern family whose nine-year old brother was apparently murdered when she was very young. With an absent father and her mother laid up with clinical depression as a result, she is determined to find who is responsible and to seek revenge. She becomes convinced that one of the criminal Ratcliff clan who was a classmate of her dead brother's at the time is the murderer. In her old house she is surrounded by women - her mother, sister, grandmother, aunties and black housekeeper - and so she enlists her solitary friend and admirer Heley and embarks on an elaborate plan to punish the man responsible. As happens so often a children's game gets out of control and she finds herself involved in the murky and dangerous Mississippi underworld: fading colonial grandeur meets brooding hillbilly poverty.
The Little Friend is a triumph of imagination and is a marvellous piece of writing. It is intensely atmospheric and detailed to the point that the middle of the book almost sags with detail, leading to perhaps the sole viable criticism of being overlong. All the characters are convincing and their testy interactions are superbly handled. Harriet, in particular, is a truly memorable creation. The author has been unusually adept in portraying the spectrum of human emotions from fear and suspicion to loneliness and loss. The final product is a delight, almost Dickensian in scope and scale. For me, Donna Tartt's hefty volume provides further evidence of the superiority of the American novel over the British.
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