THE LITTLE FRIEND by Donna Tartt (Vintage Book, 2002)

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A creepy cover but, like the novel itself, I have no idea what it is meant to signify,

“The only thing keeping this book together is the binding” quipped one reviewer on Good Reads. It’s an exaggeration but I understand where this reader is coming from.

Donna Tartt’s second novel begins,like her first and third, with a violent death. The sister of a dead boy, Harriet,  vows to find out what happened. She’s a gutsy, unconventional young woman and the strength of this character raises hopes that this might be a tight and nail-biting murder mystery or at least a gothic melodrama of sorts.

It is neither.

The main failing is that the tightness and control displayed so brilliantly in The Secret History is absent. Instead, the looseness that made the conclusion of The Goldfinch such a disappointment is all too present.

When Donna Tartt is writing about domestic dramas she is good at exposing “the tiny flaws and snags in the thread of reality” and creates tension in the most mundane of family situations. When she tries to write about characters from the wrong side of the tracks the credibility factor begins to falter. Drug dealers and violent delinquents are not her forte. Long passages here try desperately to create a Dickensian sweep involving good vs evil; right vs wrong but end up being merely sprawling and unfocused.

It picks up briefly towards the end with a couple of good action sequences but by then I’d ceased caring.

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