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Customer Review

172 of 205 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Extremely Disappointing Second Novel, October 28, 2002
By A Customer
This review is from: The Little Friend (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. Tartt spends the next 300 pages going into so much detail about the daily affairs of the protagonist, Harriet, and her friend, Hely, their families, etc., that I was literally looking ahead in the book wondering when the pace would pick up. I read a lot, and I have very rarely put a book down without finishing it, but I have to say that I was tempted to do so with this book. I assume that this middle section of the book was intended to fully develop the characters - which it does, but I never found myself caring for or even really liking the characters. My basic attitude throughout the bulk of the book was "let's get this over with so I can move on to read something else" - and at 550+ pages, it's not a short book.
To be fair, the ending is a little more interesting, and there are some fairly novel twists thrown in. Ms. Tartt is a very gifted writer, and there are sections of this book that are beautifully written, but they are like diamonds scattered in the rough that is the boring bulk of this book. Despite the nine years between TSH and TLF, TLF feels as if it was sloppily written and edited - there are several noticeable grammatical errors and redundancies in descriptive language. (For example, on page 82: "In their midst sat Mrs. Godfrey, glassy-eyed, who sat eating ice cream from the harlequin-patterned dish." How many "sat"s do we need? Or, on only the second page of the prologue, page 4 of the book: ". . . the memory of that day's events had a chaotic, fragmented quality, bright mirror-shards of nighmare which flared at the smell of wisteria . . ." and then, in the very next sentence: "Sometimes, these vivid flashes of memory seemed like pieces of a bad dream, . . ." Why use "nightmare" in one sentence and "bad dream" in the second? We get the point. These sections read like a first draft that was never properly edited.) It's almost like Ms. Tartt had too much time - because this seems to me like a 250-page novel that has been stretched into a 550+-page novel.
If you want to read breathtakingly beautiful descriptive passages, read "The God of Small Things" by Arundhati Roy. If you want to read a modern Southern gothic, read the amazing "The Heaven of Mercury" by Brad Watson.
I am sorry to have to write a negative review of this book - especially since I loved "The Secret History" so much and waited so eagerly for the publication of "The Little Friend," but this is my honest opinion. Nonetheless, I'll still be looking out for her next book, hoping that it is more like TSH than TLF.
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Tracked by 3 customers

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Showing 1-6 of 6 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Feb 16, 2011 4:39:23 PM PST
C. Ash says:
Thanks for a well-written review. I'm wondering how long it's been since you re-read The Secret History? Because everything you write about The Little Friend I found true for The Secret History, which I just finished (for the first time) last night. I probably wouldn't have gotten through it except for the fact that I am coordinating a book club discussion about it tonight. I read an interview by Tartt on Reading Group Guides a few minutes ago in which she says that for this second novel she cleared her brain of TSH in order to have "beginner's mind" -- which she attributes to Buddhist theory for TLF. It shows, considering that everything that I chalked up to "first time novelist" in TSH is what you comment on in your review. I was hoping that I'd be able to find that her second novel was much better, but it appears not.

Totally agree with you about The God of Small Things, and will put The Heaven of Mercury on my to-read list. Again, thanks for a thoughtful and helpful review.

In reply to an earlier post on Nov 1, 2013 8:42:26 PM PDT
gilly8 says:
I disagree totally w/ that review. I found "The Little Friend" to be engrossing and it really stayed w/ me....has been several yrs now since I read it, and I still recall it as one of my favorites.

Posted on Nov 16, 2013 10:16:07 AM PST
I agree with the other comments. The Secret History was pretentious with more caricatures than real human beings. The Secret Friend was a great rebound from that, and a book that I rank among my favorites. Great writing.

Posted on Mar 9, 2014 3:10:55 PM PDT
sk-cjg - NH says:
I've read both The Secret History and The Goldfinch... Loved 'em both... but have been told by people who've read The Secret Friend not to bother, that I won't like it most likely... I'm thinking they might be right... I can ignore criticisms of those who didn't like TSH very much, but those who loved it? don't like this one? No, can't ignore that...

Thank you...

Posted on May 19, 2014 5:56:17 PM PDT
Susan says:
Thank you for your well thought out comments about this, to me, supremely BORING book. I bought it and read for my mystery book club, thinking it was going to be a murder mystery. I feel I wasted good money and time on a book that pretends to be what is definitely is not. If I wanted to read a James Michener type novel, I would have bought one.

WHO killed Robin, who is the secret friend? Can anyone answer those questions?

Posted on May 15, 2015 7:32:11 AM PDT
Thank you for this review. I'm new to Donna Tartt, and will probably start with The Secret History, move to The Goldfinch, and skip this one entirely. I also gratefully wrote down the two book recommendations; I'm always on the lookout for those!
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