172 of 205 people found the following review helpful
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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