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The Little Friend Paperback – October 28, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Widely anticipated over the decade since her debut in The Secret History, Tartt's second novel confirms her talent as a superb storyteller, sophisticated observer of human nature and keen appraiser of ethics and morality. If the theme of The Secret History was intellectual arrogance, here it is dangerous innocence. The death of nine-year-old Robin Cleve Dufresnes, found hanging from a tree in his own backyard in Alexandria, Miss., has never been solved. The crime destroyed his family: it turned his mother into a lethargic recluse; his father left town; and the surviving siblings, Allison and Harriet, are now, 12 years later-it is the early '70s-largely being raised by their black maid and a matriarchy of female relatives headed by their domineering grandmother and her three sisters. Although every character is sharply etched, 12-year-old Harriet-smart, stubborn, willful-is as vivid as a torchlight. Like many preadolescents, she's fascinated by secrets. She vows to solve the mystery of her brother's death and unmask the killer, whom she decides, without a shred of evidence, is Danny Ratliff, a member of a degenerate, redneck family of hardened criminals. (The Ratliff brothers are good to their grandmother, however; their solicitude at times lends the novel the antic atmosphere of a Booth cartoon.) Harriet's pursuit of Danny, at first comic, gathers fateful impetus as she and her best friend, Hely, stalk the Ratliffs, and eventually, as the plot attains the suspense level of a thriller, leads her into mortal danger. Harriet learns about betrayal, guilt and loss, and crosses the threshold into an irrevocable knowledge of true evil. If Tartt wandered into melodrama in The Secret History, this time she's achieved perfect control over her material, melding suspense, character study and social background. Her knowledge of Southern ethos-the importance of family, of heritage, of race and class-is central to the plot, as is her take on Southerners' ability to construct a repertoire, veering toward mythology, of tales of the past. The double standard of justice in a racially segregated community is subtly reinforced, and while Tartt's portrait of the maid, Ida Rhew, evokes a stereotype, Tartt adds the dimension of bitter pride to Ida's character. In her first novel, Tartt unveiled a formidable intelligence. The Little Friend flowers with emotional insight, a gift for comedy and a sure sense of pacing. Wisely, this novel eschews a feel-good resolution. What it does provide is an immensely satisfying reading experience.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

It has been a decade since Tartt blazed forth with The Secret History, but it was worth the wait. Set in small-town Mississippi, her new work centers on the family of Harriet Cleve, shattered forever after the murder by hanging of Harriet's nine-year-old brother, Robin, when Harriet was still a baby. Harriet's mother has withdrawn, her father has left town (though he still supports the family), and Harriet and sister Allison are essentially raised by their redoubtable grandmother, Edie, and a gaggle of aunts who, though mostly married, are ultimately "spinsters at heart." Harriet grows up an ornery and precocious child who at age 12 determines that she will finally uncover her brother's murderer. Whether or not she solves the crime is hardly the point; what matters here is the writing-dense, luscious, and exact-and Tartt's ability to reconstruct the life of this family in vivid detail. Harriet in particular is an extraordinary creation; she's a believable child who is also persuasively wise beyond her years. That debut was no fluke; highly recommended.
--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal"
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 640 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (October 28, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031699
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031696
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (985 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,152 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Donna Tartt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and is a graduate of Bennington College. She is the author of the novels The Secret History and The Little Friend, which have been translated into thirty languages.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

351 of 378 people found the following review helpful By Miguel on November 15, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I don't understand what's the matter. There seems to be a rampant boycott going on about this novel, but I must say I find it ridiculous. All the naysayers are calling this book boring and the author racist.
Come on!
The book is set in the summer of 1970, and it should be noted that the social climate is captured with pitch-perfect ear. Harriet is a very well developed character and on her back she carries the whole weight of this engrossing, captivating and mysterious narrative, populated by eccentric characters and bizarre situations. Through her eyes we see how life can change in the blink of an eye. The horror of discovering the truth beneath the lies we have come to believe staunchly results in a chilling climax.
Maybe I will be stoned by all the readers who don't like this book or don't get it. Anyhow, Donna Tartt's voice resounds long after closing the final pages. And it does what not many novels can: it can make you laugh and shudder sometimes in the same chapter, and that IS the purpose of the novel: it transports you to a place you had not been before, to the skin of someone else, and for a moment, you are Harriet Cleves Dufresnes and live through her, the darkest, most significant summer of her life.
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91 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Gail Dohrmann on February 7, 2005
Format: Paperback
Donna Tartt, a classicist, structures this novel like a Greek tragedy. The death of Harriet's brother Robin is not the central event in the novel, but the starting point that sets the tragic events in motion. Harriet, believing that she can solve the mystery of Robin's death, with just a hunch to guide her and the worshipful boosterism of her equally ignorant chum, confronts a young man from the wrong side of the tracks in an escalating conflict that comes to a battle of life and death. Finally, Harriet, who is mostly abandoned by her family, has to face this threat totally alone--and she has to reckon with her own hubris in bringing about this crisis. She will be forever scarred by what she has done, but she is wiser for it all. Two families are on a collision course,and the novel is resolved when they meet in a horrifying climax. To say that the ending is not resolved is not to understand the point of the book. Empathy is generated by understanding the heartbreak of the wasted suffering on the part of both parties --neither one is totally innocent or guilty. The last chapter just illustrates the total ignorance of the rest of the community of what has happened, and how the main characters will have to bear their grief alone for the rest of their lives. The comedy of life in a small town rises to the level of tragedy--fate takes its course once the events are set in motion, leaving the reader with a profound catharsis.
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152 of 169 people found the following review helpful By sandynyc on November 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Donna Tartt has certainly not lost her craft, in The Little Friend, she proves herself to be a great writer. I enjoy her writing style and I didn't find the book boring...but it was ultimately frustrating.
Her ability to draw such realistic and compelling characters, especially Harriet, is impressive. Personally, I loved Harriet. I found her realistic and engaging.
The main problem is that the book is overly long, not a whole lot happens, the minimal plot is not particularly suspenseful or dramatic, and the ending is puzzling--what are we supposed to take away from this well-written book about a compelling young woman? While I like novels with more open-ended ideas, I was ultimately left feeling empty, not inquisitive.
I can appreciate Donna Tartt's writing, and Harriet managed to get under my skin, but the novel as a whole, didn't do it for me.
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75 of 81 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on November 30, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I think a lot of readers have approached this book expecting to read (a) a mystery that is wrapped up neatly at the end or (b) a follow-up to _The Secret History_. This book should not be read as a mystery. It is, instead, a vivid coming-of-age novel about a little girl in the South of the 1970s. As a Southerner who grew up in a town that was very similar to Alexandria, Mississippi, I can vouch for the accuracy of Tartt's portrayal. It's all there: the crazy extended families (all living nearby and constantly in each other's business), the Pentecostal preachers, the Baptist church camp, the tangled and conflicted ways that black people and white people relate to each other.
This novel follows in the tradition of great Southern writers like Flannery O'Connor, Eudora Welty, and Ellen Gilchrist.
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172 of 204 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 28, 2002
Format: Hardcover
By way of background, I graduated from Ole Miss, which Tartt attended before transferring to Bennington college in Vermont, fictionalized as "Hampden College" in her first novel, "The Secret History." Way back when TSH first came out, I noticed a stack of signed copies in Square Books on the Oxford, Mississippi square, and bought a copy. I was absolutely mesmerized by the book, and read it in basically one long, continuous sitting over the course of a weekend. I thought it was the best book I'd ever read, and to this day I still count it among the best books I've read. I've given copies of TSH as gifts numerous times over the intervening years, and I've recommended it even more frequently.
Thus, it was with great excitement that I awaited the publishing of Donna Tartt's second novel. I couldn't believe that, after the phenomenal success of TSH, she was taking as long as she was to write her second book, and several times over the years I went to the Internet to try to wade through the many conflicting rumors as to when her next book might arrive. I read the initial reviews of "The Little Friend," which were not very positive, with skepticism, and I hoped very much that they were inaccurate.
Having read the TLF, however, I am very, very disappointed to report that the reviews were, in fact, accurate, and that "The Little Friend" is not even in the same league with "The Secret History."
The primary problem with TLF from my perspective is that it is, in places, boring. Mind numbingly, excruciatingly boring. By the end of the first 100 pages, you have the gist of the plot down and, unfortunately, can also anticipate its resolution. However, Ms.
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