The Little Friend

The Little Friend

3.1 98
by Donna Tartt

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The second novel by Donna Tartt,  bestselling author of The Goldfinch (winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize),  The Little Friend  is a grandly ambitious and utterly riveting novel of childhood, innocence and evil.

The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was…  See more details below


The second novel by Donna Tartt,  bestselling author of The Goldfinch (winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize),  The Little Friend  is a grandly ambitious and utterly riveting novel of childhood, innocence and evil.

The setting is Alexandria, Mississippi, where one Mother’s Day a little boy named Robin Cleve Dufresnes was found hanging from a tree in his parents’ yard. Twelve years later Robin’s murder is still unsolved and his family remains devastated. 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. Aided only by her worshipful friend Hely, Harriet crosses her town’s rigid lines of race and caste and burrows deep into her family’s history of loss. Filled with hairpin turns of plot and “a bustling, ridiculous humanity worthy of Dickens” (The New York Times Book Review), The Little Friend is a work of myriad enchantments by a writer of prodigious talent.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

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Editorial Reviews editor

The Barnes & Noble Review
Ten years after her astonishing debut novel, The Secret History, Donna Tartt's The Little Friend -- an absorbing, beautifully written account of murder and its consequences -- is a successful follow-up that reaffirms Tartt's talent.

The narrative takes place in Mississippi in the late 1970s, but the central event occurs twelve years earlier, when nine-year-old Robin Dufresnes is found hanging from a tree in his own back yard. Robin's murder, which is never solved, virtually destroys his family. Years later, twelve-year-old Harriet Dufresnes -- who was an infant when Robin died and who is haunted by images of the brother she never knew -- sets out to locate his killer.

Harriet's quest becomes a meditation on grief, obsession, and revenge. When Harriet identifies a likely suspect -- Danny Ratliffe, a drug-addled member of an impoverished redneck family -- she pursues him with a remorseless, sometimes appalling, single-mindedness. As the long, leisurely narrative unfolds, Tartt presents a cumulatively compelling portrait of a rural Southern community and of two deeply damaged families -- the Dufresnes and the Ratliffes -- whose destinies become intertwined in unpredictable ways.

Tartt is a natural storyteller and a masterful stylist whose precise, evocative descriptions of people, landscapes, and events are both convincing and hypnotic. At the same time, she displays an uncommon facility for the gothic and macabre, and her novel is filled with horrific, sometimes grotesque flourishes, such as an unforgettable encounter between an elderly woman and a kidnapped king cobra. Alternately dark, funny, sorrowful, and surprising, The Little Friend is a worthy successor to The Secret History. Bill Sheehan

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries
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Random House
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File size:
3 MB

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For the rest of her life, Charlotte Cleve would blame herself for her son’s death because she had decided to have the Mother’s Day dinner at six in the evening instead of noon, after church, which is when the Cleves usually had it. Dissatisfaction had been expressed by the elder Cleves at the new arrangement; and while this mainly had to do with suspicion of innovation, on principle, Charlotte felt that she should have paid attention to the undercurrent of grumbling, that it had been a slight but ominous warning of what was to come; a warning which, though obscure even in hindsight, was perhaps as good as any we can ever hope to receive in this life.

Though the Cleves loved to recount among themselves even the minor events of their family history–repeating word for word, with stylized narrative and rhetorical interruptions, entire death-bed scenes, or marriage proposals that had occurred a hundred years before–the events of this terrible Mother’s Day were never discussed. They were not discussed even in covert groups of two, brought together by a long car trip or by insomnia in a late-night kitchen; and this was unusual, because these family discussions were how the Cleves made sense of the world. Even the cruelest and most random disasters–the death, by fire, of one of Charlotte’s infant cousins; the hunting accident in which Charlotte’s uncle had died while she was still in grammar school–were constantly rehearsed among them, her grandmother’s gentle voice and her mother’s stern one merging harmoniously with her grandfather’s baritone and the babble of her aunts, and certain ornamental bits, improvised by daring soloists, eagerly seized upon and elaborated by the chorus, until finally, by group effort, they arrived together at a single song; a song which was then memorized, and sung by the entire company again and again, which slowly eroded memory and came to take the place of truth: the angry fireman, failing in his efforts to resuscitate the tiny body, transmuted sweetly into a weeping one; the moping bird dog, puzzled for several weeks by her master’s death, recast as the grief-stricken Queenie of family legend, who searched relentlessly for her beloved throughout the house and howled, inconsolable, in her pen all night; who barked in joyous welcome whenever the dear ghost approached in the yard, a ghost that only she could perceive. “Dogs can see things that we can’t,” Charlotte’s aunt Tat always intoned, on cue, at the proper moment in the story. She was something of a mystic and the ghost was her innovation.

But Robin: their dear little Robs. More than ten years later, his death remained an agony; there was no glossing any detail; its horror was not subject to repair or permutation by any of the narrative devices that the Cleves knew. And–since this willful amnesia had kept Robin’s death from being translated into that sweet old family vernacular which smoothed even the bitterest mysteries into comfortable, comprehensible form–the memory of that day’s events had a chaotic, fragmented quality, bright mirror-shards of nightmare which flared at the smell of wisteria, the creaking of a clothes-line, a certain stormy cast of spring light.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Little Friend 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 97 reviews.
steamyfan More than 1 year ago
I sort of want to scream when I read lukewarm reviews of this book. Admittedly, people may get the wrong idea when they read the back jacket, or the first few pages, and anticipate some sort of murder mystery thrill. The death of Harriet's brother is merely background for her character. The skill with which Tartt explores the inner workings and thought processes of a virtually abandoned 12 year old girl whose older brother's murder has never been solved cannot be praised highly enough. Do you remember what your thought processes were like when you were 12? I sure as hell don't. But Tartt seems to have magically leaped over that crevasse that separates us from our youth, and from understanding the mysterious social workings of 12 year olds. I found this book, though lengthy, to be absolutely riveting. Donna Tartt uses her extensive knowledge of the South to create a book that isn't so much a story as a look into someone else's culture (me not being from the South). The book mainly focuses on a little girl growing up in the aftermath of her dear brother's unsolved murder, and the impact that level of tragedy can have on a family. It took me a little while to get into it, but once I did I really enjoyed this book. It took me about a month to read it, but overall I found it very satisfying. Tartt has a nice way with words, able to explain and detail things at length but in an easy-flowing kind of way. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a long comfortable summer read.
Lunahumming More than 1 year ago
I've read both of Tartt's books (and eagerly await the 3rd), and while both are beautifully written, I am surprised by the number of people who prefer The Secret History to The Little Friend. This one I want to read over and over and over. Tartt has the ability to make each page lush, vibrant and moving.
DearReader More than 1 year ago
With this book Donna Tartt simply throws down the gauntlet on character development. This, her second, book was a long time coming and you can see why...these characters have been simmered and cooked down to the kind of flavor meld of a spaghetti sauce that has been on the stove all day. As a voracious reader I am so happily suprised when a book like this falls into my hands. It's long, the story is compelling, I adore the characters, and I lose DAYS to reading. Harriet easily makes it to the top of my alltime favorite hot 100 characters. I highly recommend this book. Be forewarned if you have a small child that the first part of the book is definately a punch to the gut. But don't let it deter you -- it's fiction, and it's a fantastic book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
You feel you are in this book and don't want it to end. this is a book to lose yourself in.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Started with Tartt's The Goldfinch and was motivated to read her 2 earlier works. The middle one, The Little Friend, was tedious, a pseudo Southern Gothic and I found myself skipping pages just to see if it would improve by the end. Grotesque characters, contorted plotting and situations that strained credulity in a book that wasn't billed as science fiction. Skip it unless you are a masochist.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was extremely disappointed in this book. i can usually read a book in 2-4 days, this one took me 3 weeks because i was so not interested in finishing. The only reason i did complete it was because i had to work 2 hours to afford it. This book reminds me of a little kid with ADD. This book constantly goes off on tangents that have no relation to the story: girl trying to find brother's killer. THe above is the plot which is basically lost in the book. i would almost say this was a high school essay that required 600 pages and the content was only 300, so extra stuff was thrown in to meet the quota. I had a friend read it because she couldn't believe it was as bad as i said. she got as far as page 50 and quit.I DO NOT recommend this book to anyone.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Wow! From the first sentence I was hooked. I thought I would be reading to solve the mystery of the lynching, but I became so engrossed in the characters and the subplots that the mystery became secondary. This is a great Southern gothic novel -- a combination of To Kill a Mockingbird and Huckleberry Finn. I'm giving this to everyone on my Christmas list.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If John Irving, Charles Dickens, and Stephen King had together written about small town Mississippi from the point of view of a 12 year old girl, this is the book they would have written• There are odd characters, a longing to be finally happy, & a thread of real menace running through the story• It's A Prayer for Owen Meany meets David Copperfield, with a bit of Breaking Bad, in a southern Castle Rock•
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is in my top 10 list of all time best stories. Every character described is a whole, complex and complete individual. It is a fascinating character study and the prose is a pleasure to savor. Have no preconceived notions before you start. Don't try to rush through it. If this was a movie, it would deserve an Academy Award. Thank you Donna Tartt!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It seems many readers wanted the usual story line where all of the loose ends are neatly tied up with a big bow at the end and you are left with nothing to ponder. If that is what you are looking for you won't get it in this book. This story is told through twists and turns, flashbacks and real-time drama. It is layered with all of the crap life can throw at you all at once, told through the eyes of a child who is unprepared to handle it all. I must admit it took me a bit to get into this story but once I made that connection I was hooked. I loved all of the characters and how they were all woven into one big tapestry of life, each one having a small or large impact on the other, whether intentionally or unintentionally. Real life doesn't always give us all of the answers and neither does this story but I loved it all the same.
verysmart More than 1 year ago
I read "The Goldfinch" and "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt and I absolutely loved them. This was awful. I can't believe it's the same author.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Longest, most boring book ever. Took me over a month. I was determined and didn't want to be a quitter. I am an avid reader, reading many off the wall books, best sellers, crime, romance....This is the second book Of Tartts I have read, in my opinion a waste
Guest More than 1 year ago
Ok, yeah, I am really ready to fight. Why did I spend all this effort forcing myself to read this book when the ENDING WAS JUST RANDOM??? If it had had a spectacular ending, I may have felt justified. I just wish I could get the 2 days I spent reading this blather back!
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JodyPA More than 1 year ago
The ratings of this book are SO all over the place, that I feel compelled to buy it. All good for Donna Tartt's checkbook! can so many fans be at such opposite ends of the spectrum. Hoping I will be pleasantly surprised!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Readinng this book reminded me what a well written book is. Such a winderful way with lanuage and the story was goid and dark too.
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Just don't bother, you'll bemoan the time you wasted.
WillMorgan More than 1 year ago
well i just finished this book , i really liked everything except the ending I thought maybe she would sujm it all up or something, it just ends is there another book to this. have so many questions. ugg but i did enjoy reading it.
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