Review: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

This over-assuming book has been looming on my book case for longer than I remember. I wouldn’t even know where it came from if it weren’t for the charity shop sticker pasted to the front – ah yes, one of my jaunts through the many that grace our town, spending money I haven’t got on books that I rarely get around to reading. I say ‘over-assuming’ because of the dark, foreboding cover and the creepy looking doll, with it’s piercing black eyes and spooky under-layer. The cover, if I’m honest, has always frustrated me a little and perhaps that is why it has always lain untouched. It jumps out and smacks you on the face and says ‘read me’ in such an ugly, obvious way that I was repelled and put off. I built a wall that screamed back ‘no I won’t, I’ll read what I bloody well like and you can’t stop me’, shouting (silently of course, I’m not as crazy as I would perhaps like to be) in an obstinate manner much as I imagine Harriet herself would do.

What made me pick this up, eventually, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was the dark edges of my cold creeping in and making me less stubborn, more open. Perhaps I was just fed up of the doll glaring at me, daring me, each time I stepped forward to pick my next read. Whatever the reason, I am extremely glad that I did.

The story itself, although gripping in parts and winding, complicated, well-rounded, is far from the best part of this novel. Rather, its Tartt’s beautiful language and her obvious infinity with words that make this book an absolute joy to behold. It’s the kind of book that I find myself craving to read aloud (much to the annoyance of my partner, and the confusion of my dog), annunciating every handsome word and smiling as the sentences roll together in a way that makes me heart leap a little, in a way that makes me feel warm inside, in a way that makes the smile on my face creep bigger. Even my partner, frustrated as he was by my incessant spouting of odd passages that linked to nothing he understood (aside from the last passage I read to him), smiled and grunted appreciation of her work.

This brilliance with language is most noticeable in the first pages of the novel, as the narrative winds and unwinds, describing character after character, each with their own tale to tell, each a staple caricature (chattering elderly aunts, medicated grieving mothers, poor black maids full of religion) that Tartt has flourished to give a life of its own, a full roundness that makes them believable, loveable, magnificent in their own right. Even the so-called villains – the Ratliffs, namely, evoked sympathy and compassion – even Danny, even Farish, even the feeble old Gum. If anyone was a real villain in this novel, it was the creepy Mr Dial, the only character that I simply couldn’t feel any love for. Tartt has a talent for switching viewpoints so succinctly that it isn’t questioned and is in fact, welcomed. Whilst little Harriet is the protagonist of the tale, she is far from the ‘main’ character, littered as the novel is with such strong, believable people.

The story itself was good too. An enjoyable read, without a doubt, if a little far-fetched at times (the whole cobra incident being the perfect example). Some readers will be infuriated not to get the answers that seem promised to them at the beginning of the novel, like all good thrillers, and many will have ideas of their own but I find Tartt’s reluctance to give us a resolution a fantastic end. Resolutions don’t come about so easily in real life, after all, and they certainly didn’t for Charlotte, or Edie, or even poor Loyal. Moreover, whatever stock solution was given would have been a let-down, an anti-climax, just like the ending of most, if not all, thrillers (the main reason I don’t read much in this genre). What could be amazing, fascinating, awe-inspiring enough to be an answer to the Robin conundrum anyway? Whatever the answer, I’d have been disappointed, rolled my eyes and groaned – just as I do whenever I badger someone into telling me how they have performed a trick of some sort.

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