After being mesmerized by “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt (click here for the review) and rather captivated by “The Goldfinch” by the same author (click here for the review), I had to read also the third* book written by Tartt – “The Little Friend”. Given the previous two experiences, I had very high hopes towards this book … as dear Shakespeare said “Expectation is the root of all heartache“.
* the chronological order of publishing was: “The Secret History” (1992), “The Little Friend” (2002), “The Goldfinch” (2013)
In a nutshell
The book tells the story of Harriet, a 12-year old girl living in Mississippi in the 1970s. She was just a baby when her brother, Robin, died in mysterious circumstances. During the summer holiday Harriet becomes deeply preoccupied by the unexplained death and tries to seek revenge for her brother.
While I enjoyed reading the book, I am not overly enthusiastic about it. The first thought that comes into my mind about “The Little Friend” is waiting. Or as Anda from The Busy Shelf recently said about a book: “It was basically like a pot of simmering water. Simmering but not quite boiling.”
According to Tartt’s words (The Gurdian, 2002), it is “a frightening, scary book about children coming into contact with the world of adults in a frightening way” (Tartt, 2002). And it’s true – it not a murder mystery, as I was expecting.
From certain points of view, “The Little Friend” reminds me of “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee – children / teenagers learning about the unfair and weird world of adults.
The Sherlock girl
Harriet, oh Harriet … She is an overly courageous girl, with bold ideas and the determination to put them into practice. Clever and independent, she grows mature over the course of the story. Facing tough issues such as death, social injustice, violence, and drug addiction, Harriet is an unusual heroine.
What I will keep as a lesson from her story, a good reminder for anyone: check your assumptions before acting on them!
Women as backbone of the family
An interesting aspect of the story is the importance of women in Harriet’s family. The closest relatives to Harriet and her sister are the grandmothers and grand-aunts, who keep the family together.
In contrast is the absence of men, who are present only as shadows of the past – little Robin, Harriet’s father and Harriet’s great-grandfather.
Exotic elements: snakes and breath holding
In this novel, Tartt introduced two exotic elements: venomous snakes and breath holding underwater. Both elements are key to the storyline and add an interesting twist to the typical (and a bit boring) atmosphere of Mississippi.
I find the snakes’ appearances to be some of the most engaging parts of the story 🙂 Adrenaline, fear, unknown, a bit of humour – when snakes are in the picture I get what I was expecting in the first place!
Here’s the review of “The Little Friend” by Jess from Novel Ideas – a different view on the book. I especially like this part: “Tartt introduces a crime she has no intention of explaining. Instead, she focuses on how the terrible act of murder shapes the Cleve family [..].”
And another review by one of my favourite book bloggers: Lucy from The Literary Edit. She said about the book that it is “a tale that balances on the periphery of gothic horror, murder mystery, literary fiction and thriller, The Little Friend is a story of the South [..].”
To conclude, “The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt is more than the story of Harriet and her summer adventure to revenge her brother. While not being an adrenaline-rushing story as I wrongly assumed, the 700-page book is a slower-paced profound story sprinkled with exotic elements. I do recommend reading it, despite my slightly broken heart 🙂
‘Till next time … happy reading!
The illustrations from this post are created by Caitlin Murphy as part of her project inspired by “The Little Friend” by Donna Tartt – check out her website to see the whole project!