Wednesday, September 15, 2010

A Guest Review by author Shaindel Beers: The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

When Lisa listed her Elements of Gothic Novels on Gothicked, I was reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt and was surprised at how many of the elements it shared. When I asked Lisa if she thought it would qualify as a “Southern Gothic” novel, she agreed that it did and invited me to write a guest review.

In Donna Tartt’s follow-up to her international bestseller
The Secret History, The Little Friend, twelve-year-old Harriet Dufresnes has become obsessed with the death of her older brother Robin, who was murdered on Mother’s Day in the yard of the family home when he was only nine years old. Inspired by her active imagination and the freedom of summer vacation, Harriet and her best friend Hely plot revenge against Robin’s killer.

Like most young characters in gothic novels, Harriet and Hely have absent parents, a detail which allows them to run free all summer, plotting revenge against Danny Ratliff, whom they believe to be Robin’s murderer. Harriet’s father lives out-of-state and has taken a mistress since his son’s death, and Harriet’s mother Charlotte exists in a drugged-out oblivion. Hely’s parents appear to be nouveau riche and spend more time playing tennis at the country club than tending to their children.

Characterization: 5/5 [I could picture the characters vividly. Harriet seemed like any precocious little girl with a summer obsession, and her friendship with Hely, a year younger and in awe of Harriet, was beautifully written. The descriptions of his feelings for her were some of my favorite passages in the book. The Ratliff brothers may seem caricatured to some readers, if they haven’t spent time with dysfunctional drug-dealing families, but they certainly seemed real to me.]

Plot: 5/5 [I enjoyed the twists and turns of the plot. Part of the success of the plot relies on the main characters being a twelve-year-old girl and an eleven-year-old boy. If you can deal with the characters acting illogically because they are at an age where getting in trouble with their parents is scarier than risking their lives plotting a revenge killing, then you’re going to be okay with the plot. If adolescent main characters aren’t for you, you may want to skip this novel.]

Atmosphere/spooky elements: 3/5 [The home Harriet’s elderly aunts grew up in, aptly named Tribulation, isn’t even standing during the time the novel takes place, but it feels like a character. The fallen plantation house seems a tangible reminder of the family’s ruin, which down-spiraled after Robin’s death. Other than that, the settings are older houses in town and the Ratliff family’s trailer. There are abandoned factories and warehouses, which I don’t typically think of as “gothic,” but which are spooky and symbolic of decay. This novel is rife with snakes and drugs, if you consider those gothic elements.]

Literary?  5/5 [I’m always a fan of Donna Tartt’s writing. She manages to write in a flowing, expansive 19
th century style and still keep modern readers’ interest. Her references to the young adult literary works that influence Harriet’s imagination are perfectly chosen.]

Romance? Only the type that occurs between you and your opposite sex best friend when you’re twelve, but if that’s not romance, I don’t know what is. But, there’s no hand-holding or kissing or yucky stuff.
Rating: 4+stars ****+

Ever since I read
The Secret History in high school, I’ve been a fan of Donna Tartt. It doesn’t bother me that she takes ten years between novels. They’re worth it. 

About the author: 
Shaindel Beers is the author of A Brief History of Time and the Poetry Editor of Contrary ( Find her online at .



lisalgreer said...

I love it when houses are characters! I'd definitely say that snakes are gothic elements. *shiver*

jwade19 said...

On GoodReads I have a bookshelf called "Houses as Characters" because I love them so much.

Nice review Shaindel!

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