The Little Friend is a novel written in 2002, a decade after Donna Tartt’s arguably more successful novel, The Secret History, and in my opinion, is so much better. The beginning of the book is set up as a kind of murder mystery, with 12 and a half year old Harriet Cleve Dufresnes setting out to avenge her brother’s death, who was hanged mysteriously aged nine a decade before. This makes it seem much darker than it actually is, and turns out not to be a discovery of who killed Robin Cleve, but Harriet’s discoveries of her small town of Alexandria, and the situations she finds herself in.
I wouldn’t call it plotless, as I have seen so many reviews claim, this is a thoroughly enjoyable book, and there are some seriously high paced moments in which this book is unputdownable. I’ve seen so many reviews calling this book boring! Please don’t call this book boring! I was so pleasantly surprised! It seems Donna Tartt has this wonderful skill for writing so much about basically nothing – and many writers do this, but she is among the few that actually still manage to produce an enjoyable book at the end of it. This is a book to be READ thoroughly, even if there is little resolution to the questions she poses at the beginning – just ENJOY IT, because she’s so so good.
When I read The Secret History, I was almost repulsed by it and took an immediate dislike to it’s characters and plot (you can read my review here), and although it is definitely more high paced and dramatic than this second novel, there’s something about The Little Friend which really appealed to me. It has snakes, death, drama, white trash meth-heads, and Harriet Cleve Dufresnes, the best part of the whole book. She’s a stoic self-empowered 12 year old whose role models include Houdini and Robert Louis Stevenson. She trains herself to stay underwater for long periods of time, aims to read more books than anyone else each summer, and basically doesn’t take any crap from anyone. She’s a joy to read about from start to finish.
It seems like Donna Tartt hit her stride and came into her own way of writing with this book, as if she had to write The Secret History as a sort of practice run. Languidly describing the characters and their settings, with less attention paid to the central plot suits her much more than the over dramatic and grating style of The Secret History.