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The Little Friend by Donna Tartt - Review

Thursday, September 24, 2020

Recently I asked for any recommendations of books set in the American Deep South but that weren't about slavery - it's not that I don't think there are good books with that setting, but often they're written by white people, which is not what I'm after, and I'm also just kind of fed up of reading about the pain and suffering of black people. I got a couple of replies on Twitter asking me why I didn't want books about slavery, which is honestly just tiring, and I don't know why I had to explain myself. So I didn't.

Anyway someone recommended The Little Friend by Donna Tartt, and I knew that someone in my book club had read it recently so I asked if anyone had a copy. It turned out Margaret did, so I went to hers while I was in the area and picked it up. This book is HUGE, it's over 550 pages. For me, that's about twice the size of the books I usually read. It was hardback, too, which I find difficult to manoeuvre thanks to some mild arthritis in my fingers. However, I removed the dust jacket, which helps, and picked up the book after I'd finished the Elly Griffiths I was reading. 

I've never read anything by Donna Tartt and have always meant to. I'm assured I'd love The Secret History, but I've never got round to it. So I was pleased to pick this up. 

It's set in Mississippi in the early 1970s, although the time period could sort of shift and it took me a while to figure out when exactly it was set. It concerns the Cleve family, a white family who used to live in a big mansion called Tribulation, but who lost it thanks to the financial mismanagement of Judge Cleve. He had four daughters - Libby, Edie, Tatty, and Adelaide. They are, by the time of the book, aged between 65 and their early 80s. 

Edie has a daughter, Charlotte. At the beginning of the book she has three children - Robin, 9, Allison, 4, and baby Harriet, only a few weeks old. On Mother's Day in May the children are outside in the front yard and Robin is murdered. His body is left hanging on a tree. No one is ever caught, and the event causes Charlotte to fall into depression and the children's father, Dix, leave the state to live in Tennessee. 

Twelve years later, Harriet, now twelve, is obsessed with finding out what happened to Robin. Charlotte is still depressed and is usually in bed, so the girls are left to their own devices a lot. Allison, it seems, did witness something to do with Robin's murder and has been slightly unhinged ever since. She too sleeps a lot. Harriet is friends with a little boy, Hely, and the two of them run around the town doing basically whatever they want. 

Harriet manages to get some information out of Ida Rhew, their housekeeper, a black lady who is the closest thing Harriet really has to a mother. She says that Danny Ratliff was seen in the yard just before Robin died. Harriet becomes obsessed with Danny and wants to exact revenge upon him. 

Danny is now twenty one ish and lives in a trailer on the same compound as the rest of his family. He has several brothers - Farish, the eldest, has been in both prison and a mental hospital, and now cooks meth on the compound. He gets Danny to help him move it for sale. Eugene, another brother, was burned in an accident and is now a preacher. The youngest brother, Curtis, has learning disabilities. The boys live with their grandma, Gum. Eugene has a friend, who is also a preacher, who has a ton of venomous snakes that he uses in his preaching. It is here that the two stories converge. 

I loved the book, I thought it was so interesting, and it really has that southern gothic feel of too hot summer and vague menace that I was going for. I loved Harriet as a character and loved her family background. They were exactly what I was looking for. It took me nearly two weeks to read the book because it is so dense as well as long. But I loved it and am glad I persevered, and I'm giving it five out of five. 

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