Monday, January 26, 2009

Questions with No Answers

I've been getting around to some of the older books on my to-be-read list this winter, and at this point I don't even remember who recommended some of these books to me. That's a good thing in the case of Donna Tartt's The Little Friend, because now I have no one to blame.

There were interesting bits. I kept thinking it was going to come to something, so I'd put aside the two other books I'm reading and think it was about to be worth the time I'd already spent and the way the eyes of the creepy-looking doll on the cover seemed to follow me around the room. But, no. I got to like the main character, Harriet, so I was disappointed that she didn't really succeed at any of the tasks she set for herself, and that no one ever noticed what she was doing. At the end of the novel, Harriet has a gun, and her nemesis has a gun, and they meet at the same water tower, and yet there is no resolution to all the questions they've brought with them. By that time, I disliked everyone but the children, Harriet and Hely, so intensely that it was hard to care, anyway.

This is an older book, published in 2002, and all the reviews I read were admiring, mostly because Tartt's first novel was such a sensation that everyone seemed to be glad she'd written a second one. The only person I found who had any objections to The Little Friend is Anita Brookner, in her Spectator review.

There is a particular kind of literary fiction that garners admirers by virtue of its character studies. The Little Friend is not that. I wouldn't exactly call it Southern Gothic, either, although many have. It's not a thriller, although some of the plot would lead you to believe that it will be. It's neither fish nor fowl nor good red herring. Just walk on by, and ignore the creepy eyes.


Teresa said...

I read this a couple of years ago and liked it well enough but really didn't get what all the fuss was about. Like you, I kept expecting it to develop into something really interesting, but it didn't quite get there.

Harriet M. Welsch said...

I didn't even manage to finish The Secret Friend. Not that it was so awful, but the book was due back to the library and it didn't seem worth a renewal. I did enjoy A Secret History, in a way that made me feel kind of hungover afterwards -- I read like an addict and then felt cheap and tawdry when it was over.

Jeanne said...

I'm glad to hear I'm not alone. Harriet, "hung over" is a good way to describe the feeling of having read a Tartt-y book.