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!

Currently reading ~ 21st July

Just a quick mid-week catch up from me. There won’t be any reviews this week as I don’t think I am near finishing a book. Last week I whizzed through An American Marriage, and finished A Tale of Two Cities, however, this week I have started two new books that have been on my TBR pile for a very long time.

Image: Violet Daniels

I read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch last year and completely fell in love with the writing. A few years before I had read The Secret History and really enjoyed it, but The Goldfinch was really something else.

The Little Friend is the first book Tartt published back in 2003, before she had received so much literary acclaim. Being a fan, I of course wanted to pick this up. It is written in the same fashion as The Goldfinch, as Tartt centers on one narrator’s intimate perspective to tell the story. This time it is told through the perspective of twelve year old Harriet, living in Mississippi in the 1970s.

One day when Harriet was young, her brother was found hanging from a tree in the family’s yard, and ever since his murder hasn’t been solved. Harriet sets herself the task of solving the murder despite her family’s hesitancy. Harriet is bright and observant – making her an excellent narrator for the intricate story that follows.

I’m only around 200 pages in out of 624, but I am really enjoying it so far. It’s definitely a slow burner, as to be expected, but it already contains so much suspense and intrigue that will inevitably keep me reading. Tartt has such an eye for detail and ability to write literary and poetic prose, which is what I love so much about her writing. I am looking forward to reading the rest of this! Although I feel like I should savor it as Tartt usually takes 8-10 years to write a book!

Also how beautiful is this cover? 🙂

Image: Violet Daniels

This has been one of the most sought after books since the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I can totally see why.

Although I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, Eddo-Lodge writes in such a clear and concise way, making even the most complicated issues easy to understand. She provides a well informed account of black history in Britain and how our education system has typically left the worse parts out (Britain’s involvement in the slave trade, colonialism and the race riots of the 1980s to name a few examples) and makes a case for a revolution in how British people understand racial inequality.

She goes on to tackle other sections to uncover how racism is embedded within our institutions and takes a look at white privilege – however, I haven’t got that far yet! It’s safe to say I’ve learnt more in these first 100 pages about black history than I was ever taught at school.

I would highly recommend this! Really accessible but super informative.

My July TBR as it stands

  1. An American Marriage
  2. A Tale of Two Cities
  3. The Little Friend
  4. Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race
  5. How I learned to Hate in Ohio (e-ARC/NetGalley)

General update

This week I’ve been having a bit of a break from writing, last week I churned out quite a lot of stuff and now feel a bit burned out. I think I’m going to focus on reading instead, and just jotting down writing ideas when they come. I’ve been getting back into running this week, not doing anything crazy but just easing myself back in.

I recently hit a milestone of 100 followers and am feeling very grateful for this little online space I have crafted for myself.

I’m still pitching to other publications and having no luck… but I am not giving up and still trying so that’s the main thing! Many places, including big ones like The Guardian have been hit really badly by Covid-19 and it’s not surprising that their commission budgets have been slashed. I think it’s going to be really hard for me to get things published, so I’m going to focus on my blog and other smaller, student/graduate ran places.

I’ve been toying with the idea of doing reviews and uploading them to YouTube, but I am really not sure. I love the idea of it and think they could potentially reach more people but I also know that the platform is flooded with other people doing the same thing. If you have any thoughts on this, let me know!

That’s it for now. Hope you are all keeping well and safe.

Violet xxx