The Little Friend Paperback – 6 Oct 2003
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Ten years in the writing, it can hardly be said that The Little Friend, Donna Tartt's second novel and the follow-up to her phenomenally successful and assured debut The Secret History, was rushed out. But was it worth the wait? Write about what you know is an old adage and much of the appeal of her first book was that its sense of place--an exclusive New England campus was clearly and so adroitly drawn from intimate experience. Here, the Mississippi-born Tartt utilises, piercingly on occasions, the American landscape of her own childhood.
The Cleves--Charlotte, Grandma Edith, Great Aunt Adelaide, Aunts Libby and Tat--are a southern family of noble stock but, by the early 1970s, diminished numbers and wealth; haunted by the motiveless, unsolved murder of 9-year-old Robin, "their dear little Robs", a decade earlier. (The novel opens, a la Bunny's corpse in The Secret History, with his body found hanging from a black-tupelo tree in the garden: "the toes of his limp tennis shoes dangled six inches above the grass.") Harriet, Charlotte's youngest child, "neither sweet nor pretty" like her sister, Allison, but "smart" was a baby when Robin died. Now a precocious, bookish pre-teen, she is convinced she can unravel the mystery of his death. Her chief suspects are the Ratliffs, a local clan of speed-dealing ne'er-do-wells, one of whom, Danny, had been in Robin's class. (The Ratliffs own sorry histories, and in particular the corrosive influence of matriarch Gum, are tidily juxtaposed throughout the book with the varying fortunes of the Cleves.) Harriet enlists Hely, her willing schoolyard disciple, to help investigate.
For a while the novel takes on a positively Nancy Drew-esque hue; Harriet and Hely the spies, sneaking into buildings, making off with poisonous snakes and escaping from drug-addled trailer trash on bicycles. In a significant departure from The Secret History though, Tartt does not seem unduly concerned about plot and, or, pacing. She's interested in characterisation and the bickering aunts and so many of the minor characters, the odious car dealer Mr Dial, for example, "all rectitude and pickiness, sweet moral outrage itself", are realised wonderfully. This isn't to say it's not well plotted; it is, as the dénouement eventually reveals, but it is rather languid and things can get a bit soggy midway. (Overuse of the adjective "stolidly", a word that unavoidably, if quite erroneously, calls to mind heavy fruitcake, doesn't really help either.) Tartt's Southern Gothic saga may lack the page-turning thrill of her last novel but it's, ultimately, a no less impressive or rewarding work of fiction. --Travis Elborough
"..a mesmerising tale" -- Good House Keeping, November 2003
"an intelligent, elegant novel that, unlike her debut, manages to be clever without being arch or self-conscious" -- The Scotsman, 18th October 2003
"an unputdownable, astonishing feat of writing which soars above all of the hype. This is a novel of sheer brilliance." -- The Leeds Guide, October/November 2003
"exquisitely crafted" -- The Sunday Tribune, 12th October 2003
"her writing is simply magical." -- Boyd tonkin, Independet magazine
'A dazzling tour de force' -- Daily Mail
'Beautifully written and immaculately crafted ... even though there's humour, the tension is palpable. Unputdownable' -- Daily Mirror
'Harriet is one of the most engaging and rounded characters you are likely to find ... gorgeous, fluent, visual' -- The Times
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Top Customer Reviews
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.Read more ›
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.
I confess that after so much enjoying "The Secret History", I bypassed "The Little Friend", and moved directly to "The Goldfinch", largely on account of the apparent lack of enthusiasm shown in the reviews. After "The Goldfinch" I found it hard to believe that this author could in between these two fine novels write something of little worth. How right that intuition proved to be. I wonder whether other readers might have been similarly put off, perhaps to the extent of avoiding this novel altogether.
Now, I'm inclined to think it the finest of the three. It has depth, great intelligence and the keenest perception and sensitivity. It also reveals the most generous of human sympathies. Tartt moves apparently effortlessly between the niceties of extended family life to scenes of breath-taking action. It's a wonderful evocation of Mississippi small town life as it is of two dysfunctional, but very different families. Nowhere is there a false note or a trace of sentimentality. I wouldn't have it a page shorter.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I will give this book two stars instead of one because 1. I didn't read the whole book, and 2. one star means I hated it, which I wouldn't say, I'd say I didn't like it and let's... Read morePublished 1 day ago by A. Parker
I see this has some terrible reviews left by people who I can only assume haven't actually read it. It is a beautifully written book told from the perspective of children. Read morePublished 28 days ago by Colin Wills
Hugely disappointing. Abrupt ending and needed a good edit to bring it down to a sensible length. I did not need a description of every blade of grass! Read morePublished 1 month ago by Disappointed
Heavy going. Not a patch on Secret History. I had to skip forward, and cut beautifully written character development and plot detail because it was too long-winded. Read morePublished 1 month ago by vital.spark
Donna Tartt is one of the best authors around and this book is testament to that. It is captivating and truly one of the most enthralling books I have ever read. Read morePublished 2 months ago by ElectroLite
Read this having read The Goldfinch (which is one of my favourite books of all time). I think it was her first novel and it is very assured and gripping. A good read. Read morePublished 2 months ago by J. Symon
This is the second book I have read by this author,the first being The Goldfinch. I took them on holiday and was unable to put them down. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Julia Shepherd
It was a boring story in parts. It dragged in the middle. I almost gave up at the fifty per cent mark. The last part of the novel was gripping. Read morePublished 2 months ago by Felix the cat