Re-Reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

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After reading The Goldfinch I knew I had to re-read Donna Tartt’s previous two books. After re-reading The Secret History it was The Little Friend’s turn.

A lot of people have commented to me that they loved The Secret History but were not fans of The Little Friend. I distinctly remember loving it the first time around so beyond the fact that The Little Friend was not The Secret History I was not sure why it wasn’t well received. I was also curious to see the influence of Charles Portis’ True Grit after reading that it was Donna Tartt’s favourite book growing up and was part of the inspiration behind Harriet.

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As with my re-read of The Secret History my memory was extremely shoddy. I remember Harriet being very bookish and that she thought she could solve the murder of her brother twelve years earlier and that this led her to becoming entangled with local meth dealers. I also distinctly remember a scene with snakes. But of course there was so much more going on The other impression I remember having was that The Little Friend was somehow a darker, modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird. That impression I can dispense with completely now after a second read.

I can definitely see why some readers were unsatisfied with The Little Friend. It is a dense book and the central plot is never resolved and it is for these very reasons that I loved this book again the second time around. Harriet’s life is full of contradictions. Her life is both insular and enriched. Her family is privileged as well as meager. And she is fiercely independent while being totally unprepared for what that means.

A twelve-year-old girl is never going to solve a 12-year-old murder. And that isn’t the point of the story. But how one death can damage the lives of so many and what the consequences of that damage are years later is the territory Tartt explores. And explores so well.

I loved every part of Harriet’s world that Donna Tartt creates. You get the sense that everything in this world is deeply familiar to Tartt as it is also the place where she grew up. While I was looking for similarities in Harriet to Maddy Ross from True Grit I saw more similarities with what little I know about Donna Tartt, particular in the physical description of Harriet. I also got the feeling of a personal connection to not only the place but the people in the book in particular the three sisters (Harriet’s grandmother and aunts). These weren’t just characters she invented but inspired by people she knew and knows.

And the snakes! Forget a scene with snakes. There were multiple scenes with snakes. Each more terrifying than the previous one. Tartt uses them brilliantly both for their physical, actual danger and their symbolic threat.

If you haven’t read The Little Friend before don’t let the naysayers put you off. Donna Tartt is an exceptional talent and this is an utterly original novel.If you have read it before and weren’t a fan I suggest giving it another go especially now post-The Goldfinch.

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This tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

9781408704950Review – The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt is a true enigma. She is a phenomenal bestseller with a cult following. There isn’t very much known about her but you wouldn’t call her a reclusive author either. The Goldfinch is her third novel in twenty years, a decade gap between each book. All of them worth the wait.

I can distinctly remember first discovering Donna Tartt. When I first started doing the buying 11 years ago there was a lot of fuss about a novel called The Little Friend because it was the author’s first book since The Secret History. I had no idea who the author was or why, after ten years, there was such excitement and anticipation for her second novel. My rep, who was selling the book in at the time, told me to read The Secret History. Which of course I did and was totally blown away.

It was unlike anything I had read before (or since). I am not big on classics, ancient or modern, but the world Tartt created in The Secret History sucked me straight in (just like the book’s protagonist Richard). She is one of the few writers whose writing is truly mesmerizing. I was straight on the bandwagon after that, dying for a copy of The Little Friend. Which I also loved.

A lot of Donna Tartt fans were disappointed with The Little Friend but I was not one of them. I think people were expecting another The Secret History which was always going to be impossible and Tartt gave us something completely different. The Little Friend is a bit of a modern-day To Kill A Mockingbird without the anchor of a parent and where the outside world is full of much more menace. 12-year-old Harriet, bright and bookish, believes she can solve the mysterious death of her younger brother 12 years ago. The death fractured her family and Harriet is determined to set things right. Again Tartt’s writing is captivating and I can still vividly remember a scene involving Harriet’s best friend Hely and some snakes. I later found out that Harriet was inspired by Mattie Ross in True Grit by Charles Portis, one of Donna Tartt’s favourite books growing up,which also has another unforgettable scene involving snakes.

In many ways The Goldfinch is a combination of elements of her first two novels but the only thing familiar is the once again mesmerizing writing that draws you into her world immediately. When I first started The Goldfinch it felt like I was holding my breath and when I came up for air the first thing I wanted to do was re-read The Secret History and The Little Friend. I’d forgotten the power of Tartt’s writing and wanted to re-immerse myself in as much of it as I could find. And then I plunged back into The Goldfinch.

The central character of the novel is Theo Decker and a painting called The Goldfinch. Through traumatic circumstances the painting comes into his possession and becomes a talisman throughout his life. I am not into art or paintings but Tartt has this ability to draw you into any subject, in very detailed and extraordinarily intriguing ways (including antique furniture and its restoration!). The book is almost 800 pages, every one of which is totally absorbing, compelling and majestic. Unlike Tartt’s previous two novels this story is also wide-ranging, from New York to Las Vegas and Amsterdam. The Secret History and The Little Friend were very localized stories where as The Goldfinch is much more spread out while still hauntingly focused. It is also very philosophical and tapped into emotions no other book has done with me before.

I hope we do not have to wait another ten years before getting to read Donna Tartt again but then again she can take as long as she wants. In the meantime I am going to revisit her first two books something I should have done before now but that’s the magic and the joy of great books. They are always there to be enjoyed again and again, even when you forget!

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WIN a Donna Tartt, signed and numbered, collectors edition boxed set of The Secret History & The Little Friend worth $350

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9781408704950Donna Tartt is a true enigma. She is a phenomenal bestseller with a cult following. There isn’t very much known about her but you wouldn’t call her a reclusive author either. The Goldfinch is her third novel in twenty years, a decade gap between each book. All of them worth the wait.

And the wait is almost over. The Goldfinch will be released on October 23rd and we have a very special, exclusive prize to giveaway.

9781408802922Pre-order The Goldfinch before October 23 and go into the draw to win a signed and numbered collectors edition boxed set of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History & The Little Friend worth $350.

This is a must for any Donna Tartt Fan.

Pre-order The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt…

Also available in hardback and a special limited deluxe edition

Here’s the blurb..

Aged thirteen, Theo Decker, son of a devoted mother and a reckless, largely absent father, survives an accident that otherwise tears his life apart. Alone and rudderless in New York, he is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. He is tormented by an unbearable longing for his mother, and down the years clings to the thing that most reminds him of her: a small, strangely captivating painting that ultimately draws him into the criminal underworld. As he grows up, Theo learns to glide between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love – and his talisman, the painting, places him at the centre of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle. The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present-day America and a drama of enthralling power. Combining unforgettably vivid characters and thrilling suspense, it is a beautiful, addictive triumph – a sweeping story of loss and obsession, of survival and self-invention, of the deepest mysteries of love, identity and fate.

To Re-Read Or Not To Re-Read: That Is The Question

The Secret HistoryGiven ever-increasing work and study loads and ever-diminishing leisure time (not to mention the ever-increasing demands on that leisure time,) it’s getting harder and harder to carve out dedicated, uninterrupted reading time.

Stand that fact next to the bucket loads of books published annually around the world, and that there are bucket loads more that were published before I was born, and I’m realising that I’ll never be able to read all the books I want to in this lifetime. It’s with this in mind that I feel as though I’m cheating myself and as-yet un-read books each time I consider revisiting a book.

A friend once told me that books should be treated like ex-partners—it was fun while it lasted, but you can never go back. Things are never as good as the second time around, he said, and that short-lived comfort of returning to what you know is replaced by long-term dislike as previously unnoticed or unacknowledged flaws stampede you.

When I put this to some friends via those handy crowd-sourcing tools called text messages and Facebook, the response was varied. One friend was adamant that he’d never re-read a book, but the rest sat somewhere in the middle.

Two friends said they went back to books in preparation for future releases in a series: if you like, a re-read refresher. One (also named Fiona) said she re-read books if they were so good that she read them ‘too quickly’ the first time around, before acknowledging that her busy life meant that the books needed to be pretty special in order for her to do so.

Mardi said that ‘the really good ones are worth a second going over’, before adding: ‘Now I’m married, I only apply that rule to books!’ For other friends, like Amber, the quality of the book made the difference: ‘Lit fic ones where the prose is just gorgeous are long-term relationships. Mysteries or thrillers are one-night stands: once you know whodunit, it’s over.’

Others said that they will re-read books if a long, long time has passed, which arguably renders the book brand, spanking new. Such revisits help you ‘discover things you missed the first time around’, but can be, as Carody noted, a double-edged sword: ‘When I re-read Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, it wasn’t as awesome as I remembered it being, which made me sad.’

The Catcher In The RyeShe has, she says, ‘been meaning to re-read The Catcher in the Rye for, oh, ten years’, but wonders whether she will still love Holden Caulfield, ‘Or will I now want to punch him in the face to stop his adolescent whining?’

I’m facing similar issues myself, having noticed that my copy of Donna Tartt’s The Secret History was missing from my shelf. No one owned up, much less returned it, and my brother is again under suspicion. I then noticed that The Secret History is now available for less that $10 as a Penguin Modern Classic, which meant I had to replace it. It’s now sitting on my shelf, orange spine uncracked.

I overwhelmingly want to re-read The Secret History, although in truth my memory of the book is fairly hazy—something about students at a college studying Latin, a murder, and a character called Bunny—and I’m terrified that Tartt’s masterpiece won’t stand up the second time around. I mean, I already suffered trying to read the book she produced through her second book syndrome: The Little Friend. I’m not sure what state I’d be in if her first book too was revealed to be a clunker.

The Little FriendMy friend Katy took the ex-partner analogy to a new (and potentially unpublishable in this family forum) level, saying that there are too many fish in the sea and that life is too short to go back. But she did make me think about experiencing books in a different format. She says she wouldn’t re-read Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy, but she did listen to them as audio books after she finished the paperbacks. I guess it’s not dissimilar to seeing the book turned into a film and, as I’ve previously noted, I’m fairly ok with that.

So should I be a re-reader? Or should I cut all ties to a book, as with an ex, once it’s over? I’m honestly still undecided. Perhaps revisiting The Secret History will help me make up my mind…