Donna Tartt’s second novel, The Little Friend, is perhaps her least known – despite, alongside The Goldfinch and The Secret History, having its own list of impressive awards next to its name. So what is The Little Friend lacking?

On the surface, The Little Friend is a murder mystery, surrounding 12-year old Harriet as she tries to find the man behind the murder of her brother, Robin, eleven years previously. However, in true Tartt fashion, The Little Friend is so much more. Set in the 1970s, with a faint air of the gothic deep-south, its plot centres around not only Harriet and her quest for justice, but also how her life has been shaped by Robin’s murder.

Written a decade after The Secret History, Tartt has stated that it was a frightening book about what happens when children come into contact with the adult world. While this is obvious in many ways, particularly the peculiar cat-and-mouse relationship that Harriet begins with Danny Ratcliffe (her chief and only suspect behind Robin’s murder), The Little Friend certainly has distinct undertones about the more disappointing and sinister aspects of adulthood: including that of disappointment, death, lies and, most ominous for Harriet herself, mistakes and the consequences because of them.

The Little Friend can only be described as a ‘brick’ of a novel, which is unsurprising considering it’s written by Tartt. And just with all of her other books, I was most amazed by the cadence of her writing, of her loving attention to detail, and the clear way that she writes and creates her characters: Harriet herself is practically crawling out of the pages. Whenever I read books of these calibre, I’m always soundly reminded that this is why I’m not a novelist – I couldn’t even begin to imagine how I could belong in the same sphere as Donna Tartt. Sure, she spends about ten years on each book, but it shows: each line has been thought about, each word is there for a reason, each character has their own personality and lives that stretch far beyond the pages of her novels.

Yet, believe it or not, this was almost the downfall of The Little Friend. Although, in terms of literature, it was an amazing book, in regards to the actual plot I continually became bogged down by an excess of information. At times the story seemed to almost crash to a halt because it was going so slowly, and while the ending was quite perfect in its own way, on the other hand it was unsatisfying and I felt as though I had stuck with Harriet and her murder mystery only to be left hanging.

I think the reason why Tartt’s other novels, particularly The Secret History, are so well-loved is because they have all of the wonderful aspects of Tartt as a writer combined with a thought-provoking, intense storyline. Sadly, The Little Friend had that one aspect missing that could have made it a memorable, enjoyable read, rather than just the high-quality literary read that it was.

Have you read The Little Friend or anything else by Donna Tartt? Are you a fan? Let me know!

the little friend by donna tartt

The Little Friend – (image taken from