Fiction – paperback; Bloomsbury; 576 pages; 2003.
Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend is the story of a young girl with an overactive imagination who tries to solve the murder of her brother who died 12 years earlier. It’s set in the deep south of the USA and is alive with gothic/biblical imagery and an amazing assortment of vivid characters. But it’s the wonderful, rollicking good plot which really makes this story so much fun to read.
I’d been looking forward to getting my hands on a copy of The Little Friend ever since I read Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, some 10 years ago. Despite my eagerness to devour, I found that it wasn’t a book to read in small doses; you really need to set aside major chunks of time to “get into”. I think this is partly due to the overlong chapters (for instance, the final chapter is more than 140 pages long).
Once you can find the time to devote to The Little Friend, you won’t be disappointed. It’s a superb adventure story in which 12-year-old Harriet and her best friend Hely dole out their own form of justice and retribution to the person they believe killed Harriet’s older brother (nine-year-old Robin) when Harriet was just a baby.
The final chapter — despite its length — is well worth waiting for. I’d say it’s one of the most exciting final chapters I’ve ever read. It’s full of surprises and rewards the reader with a riveting climax.
This is the sign of a writer who really knows her stuff: Tartt’s plot, her pacing and sense of timing is bang on; her characterisation is rich and believable; the setting atmospheric and so evocative you can almost smell the fetid swamps where Harriet’s scariest adventures occur rising off the pages. In many ways her writing is reminiscent of the best of Stephen King’s work. While King is best known for his horror novels, it’s his ability to write from a child’s perspective which puts him in a class above the rest.
All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed The Little Friend. I just hope Tartt doesn’t take another 10 years to write her next tome.