Leslie's Reviews > The Little Friend

The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
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Jun 24, 08

Read in June, 2008

** spoiler alert ** This book, quite honestly, infuriated me. The opening chapter is stellar and haunting -- so much so that I slogged through 500+ pages on its promise alone. Anyone beginning this novel will (rightly so) expect a Southern Gothic murder mystery. The premise (at least the one outlined on the dust jacket) has so much potential -- set in a sleepy backwater Mississippi town, it follows the "adventures" of an overly precocious girl from a fallen plantation family (think Scout Finch meets Nancy Drew) who has vowed to find and punish her brother's killer. However, the novel's momentum is quickly stalled by chapters and chapters of *Abject Naturalism* -- scene after scene of lush, dramatic, heady descriptions, microscopically attentive odes to Southern hallmarks like kudzu, honeysuckle, bickering maiden aunts, decrepit railroad tracks, sassy black maids, biscuits with maple syrup, poor white boys who look like they could have stepped out of a Confederate tintype, etc. At first, I patiently waded through these indulgent and often silly window-dressings, encouraged ever so slightly by Tartt's prose style. However, Tartt takes unforgivable advantage of her linguistic flair, so much so that the suspense totally evaporates, and the true engine of the novel (the mystery and romance of the murdered brother) essentially gets lost among innumerable, inconsequential, floridly written digressions, all of which do nothing to advance the narrative. I carried 500 pages of information around in my head, determined to sniff out clues and sleuth alongside our protagonist - only to find, in the end, that it was a futile venture.
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Comments (showing 1-40 of 40) (40 new)

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Dustin I agree with you fully! I loved The Secret History, but this book disapointed me. The first chapter was amazing and gave me high hopes and then by the end I felt extremely cheated.


message 2: by Amy (new) - rated it 3 stars

Amy Ditto


Rozanne Yes. I had exactly the same issues with the book. Way too many descriptions of dreams and a totally unsatisfying end. What a shame that there wasn't an editor that was able to tell her what to keep and what to get rid of and that you can't start out a book with a mystery and not solve it.


message 4: by Susanne (last edited Jul 15, 2009 12:34PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Susanne Lynch You said a mouthful sister. And it really took me forever to finish.


message 5: by Jessica (new)

Jessica I've never laughed out load at a review on Goodreads before, but this was funny! Thanks for the heads up.




message 6: by Jendi (new)

Jendi I couldn't have said it better. What a shame b/c Secret History is one of my favorite books.


Andrew Exactly what I would have said if I could write as well as you!!!

I adored the Secret History and was anxious to read this as soon as it was on sale, so much so I bought the hardback, which I lugged around on the tube for a week before finally throwing in the tale, hugely dissapointed.


Ryan A sprawling, ambitious story, "The Little Friend" weaves a dense, broad and rich tapestry that for half of its length threatens to come undone by the myriad threads it works to maintain. For pages upon pages I worried that nothing would come of the story but setting and backdrop — and then, suddenly, almost without warning, everything began to coalesce. Was all that setting and backdrop and extraneous exposition necessary? Probably not, and some judicious editing may have done some good. But in, what seems to me anyway, a nod to the rich southern Gothic literary tradition that Donna Tartt is certainly a part of, the story is as much about the journey — and the mood it sets — as the destination. In this respect Tartt has crafted a worthy successor to her first novel, The Secret History, which remains one of my favorite works of fiction. And, I might add, the warning I was given so many years ago that this book "went nowhere," is simply, and satisfyingly untrue.


Jess Your review is brilliant. I am a little over half way through this book right now and I don't think I'll finish it. I feel like I've been reading it forever, and yet I'm so far from the end. It's a rough slog, and due back at the library anyhow...Hrm...


Scott Archer I waited years for another Tartt novel, and I bought the hardcover the day it went on sale. I totally agree with the comments here. I am still anticipating a Tartt rebound with her novel, which I assume should hit the shelves in 2030.


Myles I'm with Ryan here. The fact that Robin's killer isn't found hardly makes the novel pointless.

He says the heart of it beautifully, but I just want to chime in that if a 12 year old girl, no matter how precocious, solved a murder mystery like that on bike rides and "sleuthing," I would have been more than a little disgusted.


message 12: by Kerri (new) - added it

Kerri Ironically, before I read your review, I wasn't interested in reading this book (I mean, so uninterested that I actually read a review with spoilers!). But your "unfavorable" description of it actually makes me really want to read it! Guess it goes to show how different readers appreciate different aspects and styles of writing.


Kathy I agree with your review 100%.


Appleblossomm Utterly frustrating. I am completely with you on this! Wonderful writing, great start and terribly disappointing. Possibly there couldn't have been a better ending, that doesn't change the anti-climax of this novel. Nevertheless, I have just started reading "the Goldfinch", I still have faith in Tartt and am looking forward to the follow-up that "the Secret History" deserves.


message 15: by Tabay (new) - rated it 1 star

Tabay Totally agree... Frustrating especially after The Secret History and Goldfinch


message 16: by Anne (new) - rated it 3 stars

Anne I don't agree at all. I think you depended too much on the book jacket. Mistake. If you look at her other two books, they are clearly coming of age stories, as is this one. The detail did become tedious at times, but Harriet is a wonderful, eccentric character.


message 17: by Tabay (new) - rated it 1 star

Tabay Harriet, in my opinion, started out as an interesting character and I am all about the comingnof age type story but there were too many old aunts and way too many Odum/ratliffs.. I got completely bored and waited til i was half way through to toss in thE towel...first book I ever stopped reading...ever...and thats really saying something...glad you enjoyed it Anne... Give The Interestings a try..great coming of age and then into middle age story!


message 18: by Liz (new) - rated it 2 stars

Liz Snyder I hadn't read any of these reviews until now, about a week after I finally abandoned this book. I guess at least I wasn't alone. I agree with everyone else, great premise, promising start, but really slowed down in the middle. I just didn't find myself excited to pick it up and read it each night. Makes me question whether I want to attempt her latest book. Guess I'll at least read the reviews first.


message 19: by Tabay (new) - rated it 1 star

Tabay The Goldfinch was very good but had some slow spots


message 20: by Jil (new) - rated it 1 star

Jil I agree totally. This book infuriated me so much that I actually binned it rather than donating it to a charity shop as I couldn't bear to inflict it on anyone else!


message 21: by Maria (new)

Maria Stevenson Ironic that we have to put "Spoiler Alert" on a review that is actually the opposite of a spoiler alert...I wish somebody had "spoiled" for me the displeasure of ploughing through this ridiculously long book only to find that...the killer is not found (out). This book was a big joke played on me: I was hooked when i read the review in my local paper, I just had to get to the bottom of such haunting horror as was described in the review and is described in the first pages. 500+ pages later and thirty dollars in the hole, well at least I know better than to try Donna Tartt again, (I see her "the Goldfinch" topping the charts lately and i just think, either those poor suckers or...to each their own


message 22: by Liz (new) - rated it 1 star

Liz L I want the hours of my life back that I spent trudging through this let down novel. I just finished it...so disappointing. I actually reserved the Secret History at the library and they gave me this instead. I figured it was worth a shot while I waited for Tartt's other book - what a mistake.


David Streever This is a wonderfully written coming of age story. These vitriolic "reviews" are just whinge fests. You didn't like it; fine. The book is still well written, deep, and meaningful.

If you were too stressed out looking for Agatha Christie style murder mystery (yes, a decade old cold case that would be unsolved if not for a plucky TWELVE YEAR OLD) to catch and read the half dozen well handled themes here, I'm sorry for you, but it is your own fault.


message 24: by Maria (new)

Maria Stevenson Yeah you might be right. The book just didn't hook me in, after the initial hook-in. I don't read mysteries or genres per se, in fact the plot is rarely that important to me. I just didn't find this book to have any point. It wasn't very realistic, either, i mean if you are going to come up with something a bit far-fetched, Donna, you can surely come up with a murderer who actually did the crime. Surely those of you who loved this book would forgive her a little coincidence linking the real murderer, even if long-dead, to the crime? Never mind, I am not big on mud-slinging on goodreads but this one made me sore.


David Streever Maria, the ad hominem attacks and ridicule heaped on Tartt for this novel got ME sore. I'm not into mudslinging at all, but some of the reviews are just plain mean.

This book pleased a great many people; your opinion on it as a 'mystery' per se is relevant to you and people who think like you.

People who don't enjoy the book can use a modicum of respect and dignity when they 'review' it. My point is that complaining and suggesting that the author is clueless is incredibly off-center from what a review is and should be.

If anyone is slinging mud, it's the people writing about this novel like it's a bad joke and those of us who enjoyed it are stupid.

I'm sorry if it hurts your feelings, but I just have a hard time letting this type of thing pass as a 'review'.


message 26: by Maria (last edited May 08, 2014 03:17PM) (new)

Maria Stevenson Oh for Pete's sake David, I think Donna Tartt will survive these comments that she'll likely never read. I never said that this was a "mystery" per se or otherwise...(just said I don't read "mysteries per se" like Agatha Christie etc.) And why would MY feelings be hurt, I did not post a review here, but a comment, and then another, and now another, on somebody's review. Anyway I paid full price for this book so I think I earned the right to add my two cents...goodreads is social media after all, what did you expect? That's nice that some people got great enjoyment out of Tartt's work, nice for them.


message 27: by shel (new) - rated it 2 stars

shel b I got about 200 some odd pages in and gave up. You were spot on about the beginning. Just wish it would have continued that way. Grr.


James Sorensen I find it funny reading all the negative comments about this book. Some of you seem to think it is an authors obligation to give you the ending you desire. Nowhere have I read that Ms. Tartt will solve the main issue in the book. If that is what you expect, then read the book factory that is James Patterson. I thought this was a great book and was not at all disappointed. But then I understand that in life as well as in literature we don't always get resolution to a tragedy.


message 29: by Maria (new)

Maria Stevenson Donna Tartt is a bit of a chilling and pitiless critter.


James Sorensen I wouldn't know if Donna Tartt is a bit of a chilling and pitiless critter. But then, I've never met her. When I do a review I critique the writing not the writer. I find that kind of ignorant. Yea, Tartt could have found a killer but obviously you've missed the point of the book and so have a lot of other people, so don't feel bad. People certainly have the right to either express like or dislike. My point is that so many people started reading this book thinking it was a mystery like "The Secret History". Well, "The Secret History" wasn't a mystery. It was literature and so is "The Little Friend".


James Sorensen To follow up. The problem with so many readers now days reminds me of the complaints expressed by so many people that watch pro baseball games. Baseball viewers complain that the games are too long. Then choose another sport to watch! Baseball is 9 innings no matter how long it takes. And that's one of the things I love about B-Ball. People complain about all the description in Tartt's books. But I find her building the layers to great literature. She is not for everybody. But if people want stripped down novels there are other options. See James Patterson or Janet Evanovich. Otherwise sit down and enjoy a slow leisurely ride.


message 32: by Maria (new)

Maria Stevenson i WAS referring to the writing. I've never read anything else by Tartt. I was haunted and chilled by the very idea of somebody hanging a little boy from a tree. Tartt did nothing to enlighten me as to why/what/how, not just the unsolved mystery but the kind of family repercussions...it's been years since I read this book but...all I remember about it is: the Ratzlaffs, meth labs, snake charmers, water tower. James I think it's time for you to write a full review of this book and explain to people why it is so great.


message 33: by James (last edited Sep 11, 2014 12:18AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

James Sorensen I did write a review. And your remark above makes one think you are calling Donna Tartt a bit of a chilling and pitiless critter not her writing. If that is what you intended I apologize but that is not what you stated. Again Tartt is not for everyone, but I think most people would enjoy "The Secret History" much more. The criticism of this book is that we don't find out who the murderer is. But Donna Tartt doesn't say we will find this out. And it doesn't bother me in the least. In REAL life we don't always get the answers to all our questions but, it make life less interesting. To many readers read with what I call "The James Patterson Mentality". They think the crime always has to be solved at the end. WHY!!!!! And if you read the book again, she does give the repercussions of Robin's death. That is what the whole book is about, not the solving of a murder!!!! I'm not trying to be snobby but that is often what good literature is all about. A slice of life.


message 34: by Maria (new)

Maria Stevenson Sorry...I don't see your review anywhere (in the first three pages of reviews.) But I DO see a lot of glowing reviews. I don't like to make assumptions about strangers on goodreads but you remind me a bit of "David," several comments up from ours here, who took great offence at those of us who did not share his enthusiasm for this book. The unsolved mystery aspect seems to be the linchpin of the "argument" against those of us who, in your and David's view, are only looking for genre-type mystery. I've read maybe one true mystery (Ruth Rendell's "Live Flesh"--it was pretty good) in my life. Yes of course Tartt does not say we will find out who the killer is, but opening a long novel like this with such an image...it becomes gratuitious if she does not do more with it than merely launch the little girl on a journey. I think there is something jarring about such a heavy, disturbing image and the lack of any true dealing with this element. Yeah the whole story is a repercussion but I see the murder as a launching pad or even an excuse. I don't feel that we got deep into any understanding of either the characters or human nature. Some authors of non-genre fiction dazzle us with their intricate plots and surprise us and tie everything together brilliantly. Donna Tartt...I suspect she could offer any endless versions of this particular "Slice of Life" and perhaps she learned from this book, because her most recent, "The Goldfinch" sounds to me like it has a very detailed plot. Anyway, obviously Tartt rubbed some of us the wrong way, and sensuously stroked others just the right way. ;0)


James Sorensen Well, your perception is wrong Maria. I don't care if people like the book or not and I feel no offense. I didn't write the book and Donna Tartt doesn't need me to defend her. But I certainly find nothing gratuitous about her opening. It is you, the reader, that has obligated her to do something with the opening that fits your expectations. But Ms. Tartt doesn't write to fulfill your expectations. Nor does she need to. You are correct, she does not go very deep into the inner workings of many of the characters. But I feel she took a very deep look at Harriet and that was Tartt's real intention. It would be a very boring world if we all liked and disliked the same things. My only point, and not necessarily directed at you, is that many of the readers that have complained have misunderstood the type of writer Donna Tartt is. And they would be better served reading books that will definitely meet their expectations. Donna Tartt is not a mystery writer so placing that expectation on her writing really isn't fair and I've said so.


Terri Personally, I love this book. I read it more for character development, themes, and language than for the mystery, which to me was secondary. Also, Tartt has said that the book very clearly states who killed Robin--but people almost always miss it. I think the fact that the identity of the murderer is not in your face supports a reading of the book for Harriet and her journey, and not so much for that mystery.


Jason Courville there were times in the book that i wasn't at all sure if we were still following a story line or just rambling along. At times i was fully engaged and at the end it just kind of fizzled out. Its not an author thing with me, the Goldfinch was the best book I have read in a long while, I guess the sophomore jinx was in full affect.


Nicolas I do think the book is quite clear about its goals which are similar to the one she had in Secret History: she still present how non-adult's lack of grip on reality have dramatic consequences, how tales and myth (and story-telling in general) influence our perception of reality. I do however found the book quite boring as well in its executation. There was nothing to fascinate me about this world or those characters, it was too much an hommage to southern litterature and it got emprisonned by the genre in the end. Secret History seemed to me like a takeover on a genre she knew so well she could manipulate and reshape to her own will whereas Little Friend is more a reminescence of a litterature she loves but cannot quite penetrate.


Marcie Considering the number of dropped plotlines, it's almost like someone mixed up the first draft with the final product. The mysterious Stetson hat showed up on the foot of two peoples' beds and then nothing, as if she forgot she ever mentioned it. I was also annoyed by the foreshadowing. What was the purpose of that. Total waste of time.


message 40: by Jodie (new) - added it

Jodie I'm struggling with this book now. I finished "The Goldfinch" in about a week, I loved it and couldn't put it down. I was super excited too read another one of her book's, but this one just isn't doing it for me. Your review is echoing my thoughts exactly, thus far.


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