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The Little Friend: Donna Tartt

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This is the sort of response Tartt gives often; she manages to be personally evasive by giving you an interesting, if convoluted, answer - but not really to your question. She has a slightly disconcerting habit of keeping her eyes closed when she's talking to you, especially when she's struggling to make a point. So it is that Robin’s sister Harriet – unnervingly bright, insufferably determined, and unduly influenced by the fiction of Kipling and Robert Louis Stevenson–sets out to unmask his killer. There was just this kind of smoking - you thought you were looking at some kind of factory in New Jersey and you were just like - what has happened to Manhattan? It begins in 1964 (the year of Tartt's birth) with the shocking discovery of the hanging body of nine-year-old Robin, mysteriously murdered on Mother's Day.

A harrowing event whose after-effects loom very largely on the family, his sister Harriet – who was a baby at the time of his death – takes it upon herself to track down his killers.

Tartt is able to make "reading time" slow down, so that you feel you are experiencing the events she describes in real time, or even more slowly than real time. Hates Being Touched: Harriet isn't keen on physical affection and endures it only when she considers it to be in her best interests. Also, if you look at the footage of Martin Luther King's death, it doesn't look like it was taken in the 1960s.

Harriet's sole ally in this quest, her friend Hely, is devoted to her, but what they soon encounter has nothing to do with child's play: it is dark, adult, and all too menacing. Having exhausted their usual activities, Harriet becomes interested in the murder of her brother Robin, who at age nine was found hanging from the black tupelo tree on Mother’s Day, twelve years earlier.Yet the verbosity yields passages of mesmerising beauty; the caricature, stretches of delirious comedy; and the melodrama, moments of nerve-shredding excitement. They figure throughout the book, but they remain shadowy, unhappy with their lots or not wishing their simple lives to be upset.

A)lthough Donna Tartt’s capacity is never in doubt, her encompassing overview does the plot no favours, allowing in diversions and digressions which she deals with authoritatively but which may reveal a determination to succeed on her own terms, however much these prove frustrating to the reader. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole.

The whole book, the entire portrait of a troubled family and all its relationships, stems from the unsolved murder of one young boy. In the mid-1960s, on Mother's Day, Robin, the eldest child and only son of the Dufresnes, a white family living in Mississippi, is found hanging from a tree on the family property. Nevertheless, she has some interesting things to say about the American south, if more the south as a concept than the south of her home. Widely anticipated over the decade since her debut in The Secret History, Tartt's second novel confirms her talent as a superb storyteller, sophisticated observer of human nature and keen appraiser of ethics and morality.

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. Eugene Ratliff is often thought to be this because of his facial scars but is actually one of the more decent of the Ratliffs. As Harriet trudges through one lonely summer, encountering misunderstanding, bereavement, solitude and straightforward cruelty, she drifts further and further into her obsessions. The Little Friend is a mystery adventure, centered on a young girl, Harriet Cleve Dufresnes, living in Mississippi in the early 1970s.

And if what she'd wanted had been impossible from the start, still there was a certain lonely comfort in the fact that she'd known it was impossible and had gone ahead and done it anyway. It is a grief to me that Flannery O'Connor is dead - she died of lupus so young [aged 39, close to Tartt's age], she could have been alive today and still writing.

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