Book Review: Donna Tartt ~ The Little Friend (2002)

This is the third Deep South novel I’ve read in the last few months and probably the best. S A Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland, was a terrific read but this one hits literary heights.

The storyline is based on the impact of an unsolved murder of a child and his sister, Harriet. Her mother dives into hopeless lethargy but 12 year old Harriet decides to solve the murder and punish the murderer herself. Her sidekick, Hely, is willing without realising this isn’t a summertime game.

The Ratliff’s are a ‘red neck’ family living in relentless nihilism. Harriet decides, without evidence, that Danny Ratliff is the murderer and sets about ‘executing’ him. Snakes play a large part in the narrative and are lovingly described eventually Harriet employs a King Cobra (don’t ask: Hill Billy religion comes into play) as the execution method. She fails but attracts the attention of the Ratliff Family who’ve got a lethal drug habit. Needless to relate Harriet is in immense danger as the Ratliff’s spend most of their time drugged up and use extreme violence as a default option. Very precise and meticulous descriptions of the environment add to the charm of the novel.

The story is preposterous but the writing is magical and weaves a compelling narrative making the book more-or-less unputtdownable.

Try this:

Silence. The cobra’s hood was spread. Upright, calm, he gazed at Harriet, his body oscillating soundlessly to and fro, to and fro. as softly as her own breath. Look and be afraid. His tiny red eyes were the steady eyes of a god: here were jungles, cruelty, revolts and ceremonies, wisdom. On the back of his spread hood she knew, were the spectacle mark which the great god Brahm had put on all the cobra’s people when the cobra first rose up and opened his hood to shelter Brahm as he slept.” p246

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