8 Thoughts From Reading The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt

As a committed Donna Tartt fan, I was very much looking forward to this. The Little Friend was Tartt’s first novel and has mixed reviews. Having read and loved The Goldfinch, I had high expectations, but I was definitely not blown away. These are 10 thoughts I had whilst, during, and after reading, The Little Friend.

*Caution* ~ may contain spoilers.

The Little Friend

Donna Tartt

Novel, fiction, bildungsroman

Bloomsbury Edition, 2017 / 2002

Rating: 3 out of 5.

What is going on?

I found the book incredibly hard to follow, despite its simple premise. The novel is told mainly through the perspective of Harriet, a young girl growing up in Alexandria, Mississippi. Harriet spends the book trying to find out what happened to her brother, Robin, who was found hanging from a tree in the family’s front yard, many years ago. The novel jumps about from person to person, which I don’t usually mind, however in this case I found it hard to see how the different perspectives linked together, to aid the overall story.

There are so many characters and I’m struggling to keep up with them

Although the narration is mainly told through Harriet, it is alternated with the perspective of Danny Ratcliff, who Harriet thinks has murdered her brother. His life, and daily activities are paralleled with Harriet’s attempt to track him down, but this is also executed with no real structure. Ratcliff also introduces many other characters into the story – including Farish, his accomplice, Eugene (another accomplice), Curtis and Gum – who I never quite worked out.

And of course, there’s all the characters in Harriet’s family – her sister, Allison, Ida, the family’s maid, her mother and all her aunts and grandparents. And of course, Helly, her best friend. It really is a mind field and I struggled to keep track of them all and work out who was who.

Image: Jp Valery for Uplash

I’m really near the end and I still haven’t found out what happened to Robin

As I kept getting nearer towards the end, I was waiting for something to happen and it never came. Although the events towards the end of the story are quite exciting, we never find out who murdered Robin which I found so frustrating as this is what the novel is set up to do. It was just so unsatisfying that the whole premise of the book just wasn’t fulfilled.

I love Tartt’s writing but this novel feels jumbled and like it doesn’t have a structure

You cannot fault the writing stylistically, as Tartt undeniably has the ability to write and create a sense of atmosphere, which is executed well in this novel. However, there was just no structure to the story and I found it hard to want to keep reading. The only thing that kept me going was that I thought I was going to find out what happened to Robin. It was a pleasurable reading experience because the writing was good, but there was just so little substance to it.

I’m sad as I thought I would love this as much as her other books

I’d be lying If I said I didn’t finish this book feeling endlessly disappointed. Maybe I’m judging it too harshly as it was her first book and I have the benefit of having fallen in love with her more recent books but I did really want to like this. Part of me is also sad because I’ve now read all of her books and I know she takes a while to write.

Everything changes when Ida leaves

About 3/4 of the way through the book Ida, the household maid leaves as Harriet’s mother decides she no longer needs her services. Tartt portrays this noticeable break in the novel through incredible symbolism. The character of Ida is symbolized as being the carrier of normality in the household and Harriet’s life more widely, “Time was broken. Harriet’s way of measuring it was gone. Ida was the planet whose round marked the hours…” The story noticeably shifts to something more sinister when Ida leaves, and this crafting of the novel is the most sophisticated part.

I love Donna Tartt’s writing, but this novel was really redundant for me

The more I read, the more I was getting frustrated. There didn’t seem to be any climax to the story, yes there are a few exciting events, but the overall crux of the novel is never executed, which is such a shame because the writing as usual is spot on. Tartt has this unique ability to craft in depth character studies that drive the story forward, but unfortunately, in this case there was a lack of story in the first place and a plot that was unfulfilled.

The feeling of the book and the setting is infallible

Tartt’s characteristic attention to detail and use of sensory language portrays the feeling of growing up in Mississippi in in the 1970s from the perspective of a young girl. It is a fascinating character study – but I can’t help but feel it is nothing more than that. Her language creates an atmospheric feel to the book, my only wish was that it had a definitive story arc with a penultimate ending.

I’m currently trying out a few different formats for book reviews, let me know what you think of this one!

A fascinating Edition to a Nostalgic Series: Midnight Sun

Just a quick preface I was obsessed with Twilight throughout my teenage years and remember walking to school whilst reading Eclipse, completely hooked. Although I have revisited the films in recent years, I haven’t been tempted to re-read the saga, but I was unashamedly excited at the start of the year when Midnight Sun was announced. I really tried to savor the pages, but I only lasted a few days! This will be gushy, as it’s reviewed by a dedicated Twilight fan, but I couldn’t help myself.

Midnight Sun

Stephanie Meyer

Young Adult, fantasy, romance

Little Brown and Company, August 2020

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Pros

  • The background to the Cullen world ~ seeing things through Edward’s perspective is different in many ways. Being over a hundred years old, Edward naturally has a more complex way of viewing the world, the language is different and heavier than that used with Bella’s perspective throughout the previous saga. It is dense and heavy, but offers a perspective on the human world that is unique and interesting. Through Edward’s perspective, we gain a greater insight into the history of the Cullen family which is fascinating to read. A lot of the book features the thoughts of the Cullen’s and other human’s in Bella’s circle, including Mike Newton and Jessica Stanley – as Edward recalls reading their minds.
  • The chance to see things through Edward’s perspective ~ Edward has faced a lot of backlash in recent years for his controlling nature. Although there is certainly some truth to this, one has to realise he is a Vampire and Meyer isn’t trying to portray a normal human relationship here… he is an animal after all. The animalistic nature of his very being is self evident, as Edward describes the pain of his thirst and the complications this brings. In reading this I think I actually left feeling more sympathetic toward Edward and more understanding of why he is the way he is. Ultimately, I found reading things through Edward’s perspective so much less annoying than Bella’s….
  • It adds greater complexity to the overall story ~ Seeing things through an alternative lens, having read the entire story multiple times over, is bound to give more complexity to the saga. Through reading this I actually gained a greater appreciation for the world Meyer had created, as all the back story’s were revealed. Meyer has always faced backlash for being a poor writer (which I never believed) but this edition really highlights her skill as a writer, expressed with her attention to detail.
  • It adds another dimension to their relationship ~ Bella for me was always a problematic narrator and not a very likable character. The Cullen’s were always the most fascinating, so seeing everything through Edward’s perspective was definitely better from a reading point of view. Seeing Edward’s perspective on human relationships is certainly interesting, but he also manages to convey the beautiful simplicity of being human. He notices things we probably don’t – like the subtle changes in Bella’s skin-tone, and the alterations in someones voice. Although some of the criticisms over Edward’s possessiveness are valid, I think seeing the relationship through his lens is incredibly valuable. Bella is not pushed into his arms, rather, she pushes herself, and Edward is always on the side of hesitancy throughout their relationship.

Cons

  • It is long winded at times ~ Being stuck inside Edward’s head is fascinating when there’s lots going on, but in scenes when he is on a hunt or just by himself, it can be quite boring. There is a constant re-laying of other people’s thoughts as he reads their minds, which could have done with a bit of toning down, but on the whole I found his perspective fascinating.
  • The discovery that Edward knew he was going to leave Bella far earlier on ~ From reading the saga multiple times in the past, I never got the impression that Edward knew that he was going to leave Bella so early on. In this book, he realises he needs to leave her just after the incident with James, when Bella is still in the hospital, but never lets on. I think this is one of the sides to him I don’t like – he is a very good liar and can easily manipulate Bella into a false sense of security. Obviously, with everything that happens in New Moon and after, we know they get back together but still, it was something I was shocked to discover and kind of annoyed at Edward for.
  • This won’t make sense unless you’ve read the other 4 books ~ Not necessarily a negative but I think it’s worth pointing out that this isn’t another Twilight story, but an addition to the series which definitely would not be as valuable unless you had read the other books. Knowing the entirety of the story didn’t hinder me as a reader, but I found I actually benefited from it as I could fully get into Edward’s own perspective.

Favourite Quotes

Image: USA today

“My life was an unending, unchanging midnight It must, by necessity, always be midnight for me. So how was it possible that the sun was rising now, in the middle of my midnight?”

The dedication nearly had me bawling, “This book is dedicated to all the readers who have been such a happy part of my life for the last fifteen years. When we first met, many of you were young teenagers with bright, beautiful eyes full of dreams for the future. I hope that in the years that have passed, you’ve all found your dreams and that the reality of them was even better than you’d hoped.”

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Book Review: Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Back in June, amidst the resurgence of the Black Lives Mater movement, Reni Eddo-Lodge became the first black, British author to top the UK book charts. Although I purchased the book a few years ago, I felt like there was no better time to read it than now. This post is a little long but bear with me, because it is an important book with lots to unpack. You can fast forward to the snapshot pros and cons if you wish!

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race

Reni-Eddo Lodge

Bloomsbury, 2017

Genre: Non-fiction

Rating: 4 out of 5.

The long review

I’m going to start with the content, as I feel this really makes the book excel. Reni Eddo-Lodge takes a thematic approach to frame her argument and the entirety of the book. Essentially, she argues that the types of conversations we have about race in Britain need to drastically change. Instead of just acknowledging racism, white people need to realise the extent of their own unconscious bias and how deeply embedded this is within the parameters of British society.

Eddo-Lodge explores this argument with many different angles, including a brief historical overview of race in Britain, the criminal justice system, and analyzing the weaknesses of traditional feminist and class frameworks. Creating a thematic approach really enables the reader to understand how racism has been so built into our present system and what me must do to de-tangle it.

I particularly enjoyed reading the feminism section as it was truly eye opening and made me realise the limitations of its traditional white origins. Eddo-Lodge argues, “Feminism needs to demand a world in which racist history is acknowledged and accounted for, in which reparations are distributed, in which race is completely deconstructed.” I also really benefited from her explanation of white privilege, “Neutral is white. The default is white” and know that I will use this understanding to frame my own discussions I have with people about race.

Image: Women’s march, 2017, via Wikimedia

I also particularly enjoyed the section exploring race and class and how they are so interlinked. In Britain, the working-class paradigm is often presented within a dominant white framework, excluding people of colour. When importantly, people of colour share these struggles, but also are even more disadvantaged than the white working class, because of the colour of their skin. Someone who is white and working class, is more likely to get an interview for a job, than the same black candidate who applied – and Eddo-Lodge shows this through her use of alarming statistics. Thus, it is essential to include race within working-class discussions and identities because it is so relevant to Britain’s political consensus (Brexit, for example) and widening the debate.

Eddo-Lodge writes with clarity and a wealth of knowledge which makes the book incredibly digestible. Her argument is clear and carried throughout all the chapters, and it’s hard to come away not feeling completely compelled by it and further, questioning everything you have learned about race and the history of this country. It’s a book that undeniably makes you think at every stage and will cause you to re-assess everything about your own identity and attitude towards race.

The book was born from an initial blog post which was given the same title, but the argument remains the same. Eddo-Lodge argues that until we change the way we talk about race, due to the lack of ’emotional disconnect’ fostered from white people, and their refusal to accept structural racism, the types of conversations about race had are simply not worth having. The book was born from this frustration and I can see why she chooses to frame it in this way. In the first instant that the reader lays eyes on the title, they are encouraged to question their own potential bias and misunderstandings about race.

Image: Cover of Reni Eddo-Lodge’s podcast, that can be found via Spotify

The narrative of struggle outlined by Eddo-Lodge is laced with emotion and frustration and this becomes evident with the direct language she uses. It makes the reader unable to hide from the realities that she presents and is in many ways, a good thing. However, I do not think this approach would be preferable to every reader and fear that those who could perhaps benefit from reading this the most, are left out of the conversation. Of course, I understand that she is frustrated about talking to white people about issues they can never understand and how one sided this can be, however, not all white people are like this and I think this polarisation does not benefit the importance of widening the conversation.

Nevertheless, everything is explained in such a clear way, that I completely see why so many people have been drawn to this book and used it as a starting point. It is very accessible but at the same time, full of detail and complexity. Above all, she provides an essential and nuanced framework for discussing race and what it is like to be a person of colour today, but particularity living in Britain. Britain very much needed this book – and everyone could benefit from reading it.

Image: Pixabay

Pros

  • The structure provides a clear overview of Britain’s racial history and the problems faced today within every aspect of society
  • The language and approach is easy to follow, making it an accessible read for everyone
  • It provides an explanation of the best language to use when making these important discussions about race which I found very useful
  • It is a book which will always be relevant – and is framed in a way that is timeless and essential for people to understand how Britain got where it is today
  • It’s short and concise so will not take that long to read
  • It’s bold language and statements will make you challenge everything you know about race and your own privilege – it will make you think, re-assess and make changes

Cons

  • Although I understand the purpose of the title and the reasoning behind it, I don’t necessarily feel it is the best way to get more people to read this book. It is deliberately inflammatory and I can appreciate why, but not everybody will. Some people will just refuse to read the book, based on the title alone
  • Her bold and assertive approach will not be for everyone and may not work for those who perhaps could benefit the most from reading this book

Key quotes

“We tell ourselves that racism is about moral values, when instead it is about the survival strategy of systemic power.”

Colour blindness does not accept the legitimacy of structural racism or a history of white racial dominance.”

Feminism will have won when we have ended poverty.”

Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.

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What I read in July ~ 2020

I’ve experienced a bit of a ‘lull’ in reading this month, and I’m not sure why really. Some days I’ve barely picked up a book! I started off the month well but haven’t read as much as I would have liked, oh well! Here is what I read in July.

If I Could Say Goodbye, Emma Cooper (e-ARc)

Rating: 3 out of 5.

This is a novel about grief and understanding how it can affect our minds and relationships. Told through the perspective of Jennifer Jones and her husband, Edward, Emma Cooper sets out to explore the impact of the sudden death of Jennifer’s sister, Kerry. Within this novel is a very honest and revealing depiction of grief and how it can overturn our whole lives, however, I found the book itself a struggle to read. It lacked structure and a definitive overarching narrative, but nonetheless, was one of the most realistic portrayals of grief I have seen explored in a novel.

Broadwater, Jac Shreeves-Lee (e-ARC)

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Broadwater is a collection of short stories, narrating the lives and experiences of a group of people living in Tottenham, North London. Jac Sheeeves-Lee showcases the variety of generations and nationalities that live alongside each other in high density housing. Each chapter is told through a different character and experience, but all are united by the shared sense of striving for a better life and seeing the beauty in the everyday – despite their ongoing struggles. Shreeves-Lee depicts the realities of race, economic inequality and lack of opportunity in this stunning collection of short stories which had me hooked from the get go.

A Tale of Two Cities, Charles Dickens

Rating: 5 out of 5.

A truly wonderfully crafted story, set between the French revolution (1789) and the Reign of Terror that followed. Living in times like ours, it seemed apt to read a novel set within so much uncertainty and a quest for change. Despite this, there is also something strangely comforting about returning to Dickens and classics more widely. Although I found the plot hard to follow at first, unlike other Dickens novels, there are only a few characters to keep track of – so the narrative became easier to follow as the novel went on. Dickens exposes the reality of the revolution and the brutality of Robespierre’s regime so viscerally – it is revealing, clever and extraordinary. I think this is my favourite Dickens I’ve read (so far!)

An American Marriage, Tayari Jones

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book hit the spot in every way. Tayari Jones crafts a well thought out and beautifully written story but filled to the brim with complexity. It follows the lives of a newly wedded couple, Roy and Celestial. One day Roy is falsely accused of a crime he didn’t commit, and spends five years in jail which causes his relationship to fall apart. Celestial and Roy spend their time communicating through letters, which gradually dwindle out as time goes on. At the heart of this novel is an exploration of the rampant racism at the heart of American institutions, the impact of gender, class and race on life chances and opportunities and an evaluation of a relationship. I loved reading this book from start to finish and think it is an incredibly important one to read.

Currently reading

Image: Violet Daniels

If you have read one of my recent posts, you will know I’m currently reading The Little Friend and We Need To Talk to White People About Race. The Little Friend is a mammoth of a book and I still have around 200 pages to go, but the Reni Eddo-Lodge is smaller but way more dense – I’ve got round 50 pages to go with this one. I’ve been taking my time with both and reading them more leisurely but I’ll probably finish them soonish, so expect some more reviews for next week!

July’s TBR (I didn’t do too well here…)

An American Marriage

A Tale of Two Cities

The Little Friend – in progress

Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race – in progress

How I learned to Hate in Ohio

That’s all for now! Hope you all had a good reading month and are keeping safe and well.

Violet xxx

Book Review: An American Marriage

This is probably going to end up being a very ‘gushy’ review so forgive me if it reads that way! I was blown away by this book and can’t believe I had waited so long to read it.

As I’m now part of the online book community (feels weird saying that as I have such a small following!) I have a responsibility, like so many others, to make sure I am reading a diverse range of books. Back in June I pledged to read at least one book a month written by an author of colour. It certainly isn’t going to change the world I know, but it’s a step in the right direction.

An American Marriage

Tayari Jones

Genres: novel, domestic fiction

Book 41/50

My rating: ★★★★★ 

Synopsis (Waterstones)

“Newlyweds Celestial and Roy are the embodiment of the American Dream. He is a young executive, and she is an artist on the brink of an exciting career. Until one day they are ripped apart by circumstances neither could have imagined. Roy is arrested and sentenced to twelve years for a crime Celestial knows he didn’t commit.

Devastated and unmoored, Celestial finds herself struggling to hold on to the love that has been her centre, taking comfort in Andre, their closest friend. When Roy’s conviction is suddenly overturned, he returns home ready to resume their life together.

A masterpiece of storytelling, An American Marriage offers a profoundly insightful look into the hearts and minds of three unforgettable characters who are at once bound together and separated by forces beyond their control.”

My review

An American Marriage is a profound work of storytelling with an imperative message about the ongoing, racial injustices that ensnare American society. It follows the lives of a newly wed black couple, Celestial and Roy. On the surface their life seems perfect and fulfilled, as they both have careers and a house to call their own- it is the beginning of a life together.

However, their whole life and relationship is turned upside down when Roy gets falsely accused of rape. Despite a lack of evidence to justify his conviction, Roy is automatically assumed guilty due to the colour of his skin and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. What follows for him is five years in prison, serving time for a crime he did not commit. Somehow, Celestial also has to try and continue with her life – the dilemma of wanting to put her life on hold for Roy’s sake, and wanting to move on, is at the heart of her sections in the novel.

Jones explores the undercurrent of systemic racism which is ever present in America’s judicial system and how black men in particular, are still the dominant scapegoats within American society. The forces that strip Roy’s life apart are completely beyond his control, which exposes the endless sense of injustice that so many black people have to live with.

Image: Oprah.com

Within the exploration of racism and the criminal justice system is also the exploration of a relationship falling apart. Celestial and Roy write each other letters to try and make their relationship stay afloat. All the while, Celestial is pursing a relationship with her lifelong best friend, Andre. Roy has the suspicion that she is seeing someone else, but cannot confront it until he is released. The use of letters throughout the novel was incredibly poignant and well crafted, as readers, you really see an insight into the undercurrents of their relationship and their individual thoughts, feelings and perceptions.

Chapters alternate between the perspective of Roy, Celestial and Andre which I think really adds to the complexity. This multi layered perspective gives a real insight into how one event, predominantly affecting one individual, has a wider impact. Both Celestial and Roy’s actions made me angry in a variety of ways, but you know you’re reading a good book when it forces you to feel something.

Image: Pinterest

I can’t say too much without giving the plot away but Celestial and Roy are both flawed beings and the time spent in prison perhaps shows how their marriage was always futile. When Roy is released, he and Celestial have to try and rebuild their lives and bridge the gap between them that five years spent apart created. The last section of the book is harrowing, as Roy has to adjust to all the changes that have happened since his time inside.

In An American Marriage, Jones manages to craft a compelling story, a set of likeable and investable characters as well as an imperative message about the racial injustices so prominent within American society. It forced me to reflect on my own privilege, as being a white woman, I don’t have to live with the threat that one day I could be stopped for something I didn’t do, just because of the colour of my skin.

I consumed this book so quickly and was completely mesmerized by the writing, the characters and the message. Jones manages to combine an exploration of class, race, gender and all the surrounding injustices with so much poignancy and ease of delivery which makes it a masterpiece of its own kind.

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Like many others, I am still learning about the best ways to talk about race. As always, If you think I need to phrase something differently or I’ve said something out of line – please let me know. I won’t take offence but will be thankful you have pointed it out.