The Little Friend, Donna Tartt, book review
Cover photo credit: freedombooksflowers.blogspot.co.uk/

If you are someone who reads thrillers to actually find out what happens at the end, then don’t read The Little Friend.

I don’t really know what I expected from The Little Friend. I suppose I assumed it would be like every other mystery/thriller about a child who is killed: a lot of suspects, a few red-herrings, and then some sort of major twist in which the killer is revealed in a dramatic movie-style with fire and explosions.

Okay, maybe I got a bit carried away there. But The Little Friend is not what I was expecting. I both enjoyed it, and loathed it at the same time. I’ve never had such mixed opinions about a book before.

If I’m not enjoying a book, I’ll put it down, forget about it and move on. But with this one I just couldn’t. It took me 7 weeks to read every word, and I was disliking it, but also wanted to reach the end. This has never happened to me before.

Blurb

The Little Friend book front coverTwelve-year-old Harriet is doing her best to grow up, which is not easy as her mother is permanently on medication, her father has silently moved to another city, and her serene sister rarely notices anything. All of them are still suffering from the shocking and mysterious death of her brother Robin twelve years earlier, and it seems to Harriet that the family may never recover. So, inspired by Captain Scott, Houdini, and Robert Louis Stevenson, she sets out with her only friend Hely to find Robin’s murderer and punish him. But what starts out as a child’s game soon becomes a dark and dangerous journey into the menacing underworld of a small Mississippi town.

Review

The prologue opens on Mother’s Day, where the Cleve’s are having a small party. 9-year-old Robin is playing in the garden, with his younger sisters, Allison, 4, and Harriet, 1. Everyone is called in for dinner, but Robin doesn’t come. He is found hanging from a tree at the bottom of the garden, and this moment is the beginning of a journey for the remaining living characters.

But the journey is different to anything I could have imagined it to be. Harriet becomes obsessed with finding Robin’s killer. So much so, that she puts 2 and 2 together and makes 50 without even thinking that she could be wrong, or that it doesn’t make sense.

Though the reader has an inkling she has it all wrong, we’re never sure until right at the end of the novel. There are hints throughout, and it is very obvious to us in the last 100 pages. But not to Harriet. She’s like a dog with a bone, chasing it round and round, so blinded by this one bone that she doesn’t notice the much larger pile of bones sat 10 feet away from her.

She is so obsessed that it must be this one person. Nothing else matters, and she’s planning to kill him in a multitude of horrific ways, but truly believing that she can do it. I struggled to understand this in my reading of The Little Friend. She’s only twelve, and yet has the brain of a psychopath. She doesn’t fear anything, she doesn’t think about the repercussions of what she is planning on doing it. It’s just….bizarre.

In one horrific scene that will stay embedded in my mind for a long time, Harriet attempts to rescue a blackbird stuck in tar on the road:

“She slipped her hands underneath it, supporting its stuck wing as best as she could and – wincing against the wing beating violent in her face – lifted up. There was a hellish screech and Harriet, opening her eyes, saw that she’d ripped the stuck wing off the bird’s shoulder. There it lay in the tar, grotesquely elongated, a bone glistening blue out the torn end.”

She holds the bird, until it dies in her hands. There is a moment, too, where she pushes a large poisonous Cobra off a bridge and into the open sunroof of a car. Is this normal child’s behaviour? Absolutely not.

Themes

The themes throughout The Little Friend centre around race and class. The novel is set in Mississippi in the 1970s. It’s clear that the small, sleepy town hasn’t quite caught up with the modern views of the rest of the world. Harriet and her sister have a black maid, Ida, who holds a lot of hatred for white people. Though she loves her ‘white family’, an incident involving a fire at her local church has left her badly scarred, mentally and physically.

What’s most poignant, and has stood out to me even after finishing the book, is a comment made by a lower-class drug dealer. Farish lives in a trailer with his Grandma, Gum, and his brothers. He makes some comment about how blacks look down on the ‘trailer-trash’ as if they’re better than them because they’re richer. But Farish believes, because they’re white, that no matter how much money they have, they will always come above black people in the race hierarchy.

The ending is ambiguous, and annoyed me at the same time that I felt relief it was over. 7 weeks of reading, and still no clearer about who murdered Robin than we were at the start.

Tartt herself commented on this in an interview:

I didn’t want to tie things up too neatly. I don’t think it’s really the business of a writer today, to tie up narrative too neatly and deliver it in a box. And to lead the killer away in handcuffs.

Well, I still would have quite liked the killer to be led away in handcuffs rather than waiting 555 pages to reveal…..nothing.

Many have taken to guessing who the killer might be, picking up small, minor details in the text. But I’m still not convinced by many of the theories.

Questions that I still have upon finishing

Who is ‘The Little Friend’?
Who killed Robin Cleve?
What does Allison dream about that she won’t tell Harriet?

Buy a Copy. Currently £2 off!

 

Books Similar to The Little Friend

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell

Then She Was Gone book review

The latest review in The Library is a guest post by Steph, who you can usually find blogging about food and drink over on her blog, Hungry Harriet. She’s a self-confessed Lisa Jewell super fan and wanted to share her thoughts on her latest fictional masterpiece, Then She Was Gone.

Then She Was Gone book review

Blurb:

She was fifteen, her mother’s golden girl.
She had her whole life ahead of her.
And then, in the blink of an eye, Ellie was gone.

Ten years on, Laurel has never given up hope of finding Ellie. And then she meets a charming and charismatic stranger who sweeps her off her feet.

But what really takes her breath away is when she meets his nine year old daughter.

Because his daughter is the image of Ellie.

Now all those unanswered questions that have haunted Laurel come flooding back.

What really happened to Ellie? Who still has secrets to hide?

Plot summary:

Then She Was Gone is relayed to us in non-chronological order, presenting us with the problem at the very beginning and filling in the pieces of the jigsaw from then on. The puzzle is pieced together from various character perspectives to form one coherent solution to our initial induced befuddlement. We are led to a kind of happily ever after (sort of) but in true Lisa Jewell style, we’re always left with a sense of ambiguous darkness to mull over.

The book begins in the past with Ellie, who we later find out went missing after heading out to the library one afternoon whilst studying for her GCSEs. Vanished into the ether with no apparent explanation for the family who end up disintegrating in the wake of her mysterious disappearance. Ten years on, the police come up with a chink of hope for the family after discovering a bag, some belongings and human remains buried in a field.

The discovery provides the launchpad from which we then find out more about Ellie’s last moments before her disappearance, the consequences the incident has had on Ellie’s newly separated parents, Laurel and Paul and their two other children, Hannah and Jake. The narrative is catalysed when Laurel meets new love interest, Floyd in a seemingly serendipitous case of events and subsequently becomes closer to his daughter, Poppy who looks uncannily like Ellie. Floyd and Poppy provide the missing link between past and present and answer some pressing questions about Ellie’s childhood math’s tutor, Noelle.

Review:

As the kettle boiled early one Saturday morning when it was finally time to break the spine on a brand new hardback, I turned the front cover and perused the reviews on the sleeve while I waited for the click. Now if I remember correctly, it was The Daily Express who described how they simply “inhaled” Then She Was Gone and I thought to myself, yep – that is the perfect verb to describe my reading of any Lisa Jewell novel. Past and present.

I say this because I’m a bit of a self-confessed Lisa Jewell superfan and you can guarantee I’ll have devoured a new release within a maximum of 72 hours following it’s launch date. This time was 12 hours. Twelve hours, two sittings and countless cups of milky tea to carry me through what transpired to be yet another intricate and truly gripping narrative from the acclaimed authoress.

Then She Was Gone was true to tradition. Lisa Jewell most definitely has a signature writing style that is comforting, familiar and unnervingly sinister in equal parts. I always say that I’d love to see how she constructs her plots as they’re always a complicated web of then and now, coincidental relationships and a crescendo revelation that you can’t believe you didn’t see coming. I have to admit, I did rumble this one a bit earlier than usual but I navigated my way through the maze of interlinking stories with an insatiable curiosity nonetheless.

Now it’s all over, I have some unanswered questions myself. I miss Laurel. I want to know how her and Poppy are getting on. Was Floyd’s secret at the end of the garden ever uncovered? Whatever happened to Hannah and Theo? I’m even envious of anybody who hasn’t read it because I’d love to do it all over again.

Closing the back page on Then She Was Gone filled me with the same disappointment and frustration that every Lisa Jewell novel does – in the best possible way. It’s a disappointment that you can never go for coffee with any of the characters you’ve come to know so well, and a frustration that the plot can’t just keep unravelling like a ball of entangled thread into infinity and beyond.

As the cool kids would say: 10/10, would totally recommend.

Buy your copy now. Currently £3 off!

Books Similar to Then She Was Gone

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt – review coming on Friday!

The Glass Lake, Maeve Binchy