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The Little Friend (2002)

by Donna Tartt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
6,1691431,131 (3.42)187
Growing up in a small Mississippi town in a family haunted by the murder of her brother, Robin, Harriet Cleve Dusfresnes lives in a world of her imagination, until, at the age of twelve, she decides to find Robin's murderer and exact her revenge.
  1. 81
    The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Booksloth)
  2. 42
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (DLSmithies)
    DLSmithies: The settings and atmospheres of both books are very similar.
  3. 10
    The Way the Crow Flies by Ann-Marie MacDonald (starboard)
  4. 10
    The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers (shaunie)
  5. 32
    The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books display the effects on a family of the murder of a child.
  6. 00
    The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Frankie and Harriet are both brave, lonely schoolgirl heroines, residents of the Deep South.
  7. 00
    Atonement by Ian McEwan (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: On the brink of adolescence, and all its hormonal storms, a clever but wildly imaginative girl makes up a story from fragments of hearsay and fantasy. Moulded by the yarns of daring and detection she has read, this story will transform her world over a single, clammy summer. The effectively fatherless child of an élite family, she lives in a sleepy, class-bound backwater. Her book-bred fancies will push a marginal young man into the glare of shame and ruin. But the tale-spinner will repent, and the curtain drop on a self-dramatising childhood. As its legion of admirers knows, so runs the main action of Ian McEwan's Atonement. Before long, an equally vast army will also recognise the outline of Donna Tartt's The Little Friend.… (more)
  8. 00
    The Help by Kathryn Stockett (KayCliff)
  9. 00
    The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami (ainsleytewce)
  10. 12
    The Body by Stephen King (ecleirs24)
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» See also 187 mentions

English (124)  Dutch (10)  French (4)  Finnish (2)  German (2)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (144)
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
This book is not worth reading. If you are considering it, just know that after reading 640 pages, you still don't find out who murdered Robin Cleve Dufresnes. You are stuck jumping around to a myriad of characters with no real ending in sight. When you do get to the end you are going to want to throw this book across the room and ask was that it? There is no character development. The flow is non-existent. We jump back and forth among different times in this book and between characters so it's really hard to even recall who is who and who did what to who after a while.

"The Little Friend" is supposed to be about the aftermath of the Cleve family trying to put themselves back together after Robin Cleve Dufresnes is found murdered in the front yard. The book starts off on his last day and we get to see why so many in the family loved Robin. When he is found murdered, there is an initial investigation that turned up no suspects. The death left Robin's mother, Charlotte, devastated and the woman for all intents has turned into a living ghost. Robin's father, Dixon, who didn't really care about his family at all prior to Robin's death, disappears to another state entirely and only returns home for the holidays. It really is Charlotte's mother and her aunts that take over raising her two daughters, Alison and Harriet. After the prologue we get into the here and now and find out that Alison is 16 and Harriet is 12.

If you have to call someone the main character of the book, it would be Robin's younger sister Harriet. Harriet decides that she is going to solve the mystery of who killed her brother. When her family's maid, Ida Rhew talks about how Robin was always fighting with a local boy named Daniel Ratliff. Ida and others have looked down their noses at the Ratliff family and there are hints that he was jealous of Robin. Harriet through no evidence at all decides that Daniel murdered her brother so she is going to kill him. No this makes zero sense and since Harriet barely seems to like anyone in this book, it's odd she decided she is going to avenge her brother who has been dead for 12 years.

Harriet is annoying. Tartt shows her nastiness throughout this book. And then something changes and we are supposed to feel for her when the family's maid quits. Eventually this turns into a coming of age story for Harriet, but then we go back to the ridiculous subplot with her trying to kill Daniel. Tartt does foreshadow that Harriet's life gets worse after this summer and she can pinpoint the exact time when things started to go badly for her. Her side kick in arms to this mess is a boy named Hely. Hely sucks and is focused on either making Harriet take notice of him and or annoying her throughout this book. Hely agrees to help Harriet with the killing of Daniel because he has zero sense too.

Besides following Harriet and her misadventures, we also follow Harriet's grandmother, Edie, and the aunts, Libby, Adelaide, and Tat. The book jumps around between them and also Daniel and his family too. If this has just been a book focused on a southern family in the 1970s it maybe would have worked, instead we have the murder mystery plot with a hundred other things going on.

The book setting is the 1970s in Alexandria, Mississippi. There is some instances where I thought I was reading "The Help" when we get into the dynamics of white children and their black maids. Harriet doesn't seem to pay any attention to her family's maid, until through a series of misunderstandings, Harriet causes Ida Rhew to get dismissed. Her great aunts don't really get why she's upset, except for one, and Harriet refuses to say goodbye to Ida Rhew and we find out regrets it for the rest of her life.

The ending was just a mess. Things happen. There are red herrings. And then the book clunks to a close. ( )
  ObsidianBlue | Jul 1, 2020 |
It's not often I read a long book without wanting to get out the red pen. I don't think I'd chop one word from this. ( )
  bringbackbooks | Jun 16, 2020 |
I loved The Goldfinch, liked The Secret History, and thought this one was okay. I think my experience with the book did suffer from the promise of the back cover, which made it seem more like a murder mystery or at least a dark exploration of a troubled family. Instead, it was the story of a precocious, brave girl and the places where her story intersected with a family of low-life meth dealers. I have no idea what the point of all the aunts was. I enjoyed the dialogue and her friend Hely, and spacey Allison and their troubled mom, but I wish it had all resolved into something more. ( )
  nancyjean19 | Jun 3, 2020 |
This was pretty good. I might change my mind to just plain good after a while though. ( )
  reg_lt | Feb 7, 2020 |
Incredible command of language but seems like 80% of this was completely unnecessary, at times had no idea what the story was supposed to be about, was this her version of “the body”? Yes, took me 2 years to finish ( )
  jimifenway | Jan 2, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 124 (next | show all)
Though the world Harriet discovers is unquestionably haunted, there is nothing magical about it, or about the furious, lyrical rationality of Tartt's voice. Her book is a ruthlessly precise reckoning of the world as it is -- drab, ugly, scary, inconclusive -- filtered through the bright colors and impossible demands of childhood perception. It grips you like a fairy tale, but denies you the consoling assurance that it's all just make-believe.

Comparisons, in any case, are beside the point. This novel may be a hothouse flower, but like that fatal black tupelo tree, it has ''its own authority, its own darkness.'' ''This was the hallmark of Harriet's touch,'' Hely reflects. ''She could scare the daylights out of you, and you weren't even sure why.'' Harriet's gift is also Tartt's. ''The Little Friend'' might be described as a young-adult novel for grown-ups, since it can carry us back to the breathless state of adolescent literary discovery, when we read to be terrified beyond measure and, through our terror, to try to figure out the world and our place in it.
 
But this novel is not directly about a murder. It is about the effect that the murder has on the dead boy's family, and especially on his sister Harriet, who was less than a year old when he died, and is 12 when the novel begins. It is through Harriet's desire to come to terms with the past and find her brother's killer that Tartt paints her vision of family life in the American South. As Harriet trudges through one lonely summer, encountering misunderstanding, bereavement, solitude and straightforward cruelty, she drifts further and further into her obsessions. Eventually other, tougher, meaner characters are dragged into her warped world and she is almost destroyed by her attempts to exact pointless revenge on individuals who bear illogical grudges against her.
added by rosalita | editGuardian, Natasha Walter (Oct 26, 2002)
 
With its pre-teen sleuths on bicycles, its broad-brush villains and oddly invisible police, The Little Friend courts absurdity time and again. A novel about the force and fraud of children's literature, it shares plenty of improbable conventions with that genre. It also flirts at every stage with kitsch and, in so doing, muddles the categories of "literary" and "popular" fiction even more thoroughly than The Secret History did. Critical puritans (or merely Yankees) will point to its Dixie weakness for verbosity, caricature and melodrama. Yet the verbosity yields passages of mesmerising beauty; the caricature, stretches of delirious comedy; and the melodrama, moments of nerve-shredding excitement.
added by rosalita | editIndependent, Boyd Tonkin (Oct 26, 2002)
 
Southern Gothic is an American literary genre with no British equivalent. It uses lush prose with a strong sense of Southern literary heritage (Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor), is set in the former Confederacy, and features at least three of the following ingredients: insanity, incest, inbreeding, extreme meteorological phenomena, fundamentalist religion, corrupt preachers, slave-owner guilt, black rage, fading gentility, violent white trash, fragrant subtropical plants. At least one main character always dies.
Donna Tartt's second novel, The Little Friend, is a spacious and ambitious example of Southern Gothic.
 
Like her best-selling 1992 début, "The Secret History," this long-awaited second novel takes the shape of a murder mystery, but it's not really about a death at all. It's about a way of life.

Tartt, who was born in Mississippi, has set her new book in her home state, in a shabby riverside town called Alexandria. From the start, it's clear that the corruptions that interest her most are the familiar ones: ingrained, almost casual racism; hostility between the white-trash "plain people" and the "town folk" like Robin's maternal relatives, the Cleves, with their faded aristocratic pretensions; and—inevitably, in the literature of the South—the stranglehold of the past.
 

» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tartt, Donnaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Jonkheer, ChristienTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lange, Barbara deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Mossel, BabetTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Rabinovitch, AnneTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The slenderest knowledge that may be obtained of the highest things is more desirable than the most certain knowledge obtained of lesser things.

--Saint Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, 1, 5 AD 1
Ladies and gentlemen, I am now locked up in a handcuff that has taken a British mechanic five years to make. I do not know whether I am going to get out of it or not, but I can assure you I am going to do my best.

--Harry Houdini, London Hippodrome, Saint Patrick's Day, 1904
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For Neal
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For the rest of her life, Charlotte Cleve would blame herself for her son's death because she had decided to have the Mother's Day dinner at six in the evening instead of noon, after church, which is when the Cleves usually had it.
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What she wanted -- more than Tribulation, more than anything -- was to have her brother back. Next to that, she wanted to find out who killed him.
Later, when Harriet remembered that day, it would seem the exact, crystalline, scientific point where her life had swerved into misery. Never had she been happy or content, exactly, but she was quite unprepared for the strange darks that lay ahead of her.
She did not care for children's books in which the children grew up, as what 'growing up' entailed (in life as in books) was a swift and inexplicable dwindling of character; out of a clear blue sky the heroes and heroines abandoned their adventures for some dull sweetheart, got married and had families, and generally started acting like a bunch of cows.
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