I’ve never liked the cliché of everyone having “one novel inside them”, but perhaps with Donna Tartt it is true. Her first novel, The Secret History, was stunningly epic with a dark, haunting beauty, tracing the dangers of obsession and passion. Once finished, I had to buy her second book, The Little Friend.
It certainly starts well, the best writing of the whole book being contained within the first few chapters, tracing the sudden disappearance of a much-loved child from his own backyard. Here, Tartt uses rich, sensuous imagery to draw us into the storyline, genuinely conjuring a sick, dry despair at the situation unfolding on the page.
However, the story doesn’t do itself justice. The opening promises a long and intricate narrative, but what we find are detailed portraits of the family in the aftermath of loss. These are very well written, but take on a Gormenghast quality of unreality and leave us in a dream like state too acute properly to deliver the messages of the novel. Although it is beautiful, static writing, it doesn’t do justice to Tartt’s capability to produce a truly gripping tale.