Fiction & Biography



The Little Friend (Bloomsbury 5:16.99) 0..

In 1992, The Secret History launched Donna Tartt onto the literary scene with a bullet. Eight years in the making, it set Tartt up as a female Bret Easton Ellis or Jay Mclnerney. Only smarter. It was the kind of novel that got people talking; everyone was either reading it or looking to borrow it. An intelligent and gripping thriller about students at an elite US college, The Secret History captured a world that ex- Bennington girl Tartt was very well versed in.

Equally, The Little Friend occupies an era and area in which Tartt grew up: 70$ Deep South America. Subsequently, the book is rich in descriptive prose; the oppressive heat and mindless prejudice are tangible and wholly believable.

And once again, her characterisation is flawless: elderly southern belles clinging onto former glories; drugged-up rednecks living a self-perpetuating

cycle of poverty, violence and dissatisfaction; and most impressive of all, Harriet, our heroine - a 12-year-old girl whose thoughts and feelings Tartt has penetrated with empathic clarity. The foundless

anxiety, misunderstood emotion and foolish

bravado which makes up your average pre- teen is expertly drawn, dragging us back

to that long forgotten innocence.

But whereas The Secret History had us hooked from the outset, tugging you back until the final page was turned, The Little Friend has a far gentler pull. Despite opening with the mysterious murder of Harriet’s elder brother, Robin, it’s not until we’re two thirds into this SSS-page tome that the whodunit element kicks in. Instead, Tartt spends chapter after

chapter depicting a world turned upside down.

The all-pervading sadness that consumes Harriet and her many female relatives (sister, mother, grandmother and three great aunts) is an acute

The master of irritation

102 THE LIST 14- 28 Nov 200?.

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Donna Tartt can be forgiven for wordy prose but not for the bad ending

observation on how a single tragedy can alter a family irreversibly. Harriet’s entire childhood is spent living up to the memory of the brother who died during her

infancy. Finally, during the course of one school



Flight from Deathrow (Tame \"Varner 95.9% 00

Let's talk about silly. I like silly. Silly is good. In a universe that is fundamentally ridiculous. there's far too n‘uch seriousness about. For this reason. I Eill‘ not one of those people who reaches for the remote every time Harry Hill con‘es On the TV. l'ri‘ not exactly a fan. but I'm glad he's around. Just celebrating the absurdity of it all.

But let's talk about novels. Because it'd be hard to argue that silliness fits comfortably With the form. Flanri O'Brien notwithstantling. A five-minute (I()ll‘,(}(l\,' sketch is one thing. but a sustained shaggy dog story over 1300 pages is quite another. And that's exactly what Harrv Hill has written in yrrhat is certainly a ‘debut' but (.iuestionably a 'novel'.

Flight from Deathrow is one of the most Irritating books you'll ever have the misfortune to read. I'd like to tell yr \u

summer holiday, she vows to find his

killer; and so her girls-own adventure

unfolds. Unwatched by her damaged mother and absent father, she becomes tangled up in the illegal exploits of the local hardmen, leading inevitably to a life- threatening situation.

We can forgive Tartt her overly wordy prose, her apparent loathing of men (eight male subsidiary characters, every one of them feckless, abusive or untrustworthy),

even the 100 or so pages she should have left unwritten. But the closure she denies her readers by delivering one of the most unsatisfactory endings in recent history is just unforgivable. The Little Friend took ten years to write, theoretically making it 20% better than The Secret History. Sadly the reverse is true. (Kelly Apter)

what it's about. but found I impossible even to recall yarhat had happened fron‘ chapter to chapter. despite r‘eazlhg it over only a few days. H;"'s ritethod as to llll'()‘.'.‘ 'iiir‘self nto tne :leen end ‘.'.’|i". a gag or a chance ren‘ar'k ‘.'.’ll!(Ill he then drines to its r'ari‘bingly illog ca. concfusion: the n‘ari who takes an ice cold bud iron the fridge rims“. therefore be a fan of r‘os~::-'r>t.-:ls. gardens. the Cheisea Flo‘xxer Show: Alan 1 Ic'riii‘arsh and so on and so on.

Brewing up several chapters iii this way. he creates a cast of characters pygiiiies. Jonathan Aitken. a celebrity pig who contribute to the thinnest of nar‘r'atiye lines stretched beyond breaking point by the weight of tangential meandering. And it's all the more frustrating that a lot of it is actually very funny. There are surreal ideas and sharp obseryations aplenty: if only the pdiiitlessness of it all didn't wear you down. File under misguided. (Mark l-isheri

Shelf life

Class/c novels rev/sited. This issue: The Wings of the Dove

Published 1.00 years ago. What’s the story In Henry James' masterpiece. Kate Cr'oy'. tne penniless daughter of a bankrupt adventurer. is secretly engaged to Jotirnaiist Merton Densher. After meetng the American heiress Mily 'l‘heaie. whom she knows is suffering from a fatal illness. the opportunistic Kate encourages Merton to befriend Milly. lely falls in love With Merton. and Kate tries to persuade him to marry ner. but Milly later finds out about the engagement. Dexastated. Milly dies soon after. leaving her fortune to Merton. Consumed by shame. he refuses to accept the money. causing his relationship with Kate to :irs;ntegrate.

What the critics said (:()l‘.l(}ll‘-l)0l£.il'y American .".()‘.(Ei|f$l and commentator Joyce Carol Oates enthused: “It :s an (XLKZLIIKNT. a growth of the moral sense ll‘ all :moived.‘ Key moment At the end. a gt.:|t- :dden Merton cor‘fronts Kate. its/ho "exeals that she covertly £1!"£t"§;()(l to." Milly to be told 0‘ their engagement yia their mutua' suitor. the odious Lord Mark. Kate then makes it known that she wfli not accept Merton ‘.'.’t'.'l().lI his nevxly {KIQUl’GO ‘.'.'c-a'th.

Postcript the New York» txrr’r‘ James became a Britist‘ (:it Xiir‘. in $315) haying wed l" Europe for many years. His later novels l)."()\’l(l() exacting (3Xl_)lt’)"£til()l‘.§3 of the contrast r>et\.'.een Amerucan and l;..ropeari societies.

First line test ‘S'te '.'.a:ted. Kate Croy. for her father tocon1e in. but he kept her uncor‘sciOnabsy.' t/\|ian RadorffeI