Friday, December 06, 2002
Have just finished reading The Little Friend by Donna Tartt. When DT's first novel, The Secret History came out ten (count 'em) years ago, I was practically evangelical about it. It became my mission in life to press it upon everyone I knew: 'You must read this book, it's the greatest novel ever, blah blah blah.' Well, maybe it's not the best novel ever written but it was definitely the best book of the nineties, and to say I was quite looking forward to DT's new one is like saying children quite look forward to Christmas. So with that much anticipation, it was bound to be disappointing.

And it was. But... it's still a great book. The writing, in parts, is astonishing - dense and lush and teeming with wildlife: snakes and mosquitoes that strike and bite; dead cats and killer dogs. Some of the scenes had me hissing with laughter, trying to suppress my mirth because Butter was asleep beside me (I'm so thoughtful!) As the story nears its climax, the characters' lives spin out of control like a wayward Beyblade, and DT captures the drug- and grief-fuelled paranoia of the players brilliantly. The main character, Harriet, is an outcast, a dark-minded child who lives in the world of adventure stories - she's a great creation. Her best friend, Hely, is great too. Actually, in a lot of ways, DT writes male characters better than she does female ones. Harriet is repulsed by the coming arrival of puberty; she doesn't want to be a woman. And neither of DT's novel's have dealt with female sexuality in any real way. In fact, she pretty much ignores sex altogether.

The Secret History was a one-off: the most atmospheric, compelling novel I've ever read. And The Little Friend suffers beside it. It lacks that X-factor that the judges on Pop Idol were always banging on about. So it's definitely worth reading, but don't expect another Secret History.

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