The bayous that are conjured up in your mind in Tartt’s Mississipian landscape look shallow and seemingly peaceful on the surface, but beneath the cold and dark brackish water lurks an unseen inhabitant, a psychological horror that grows darker as you turn the pages.

Forget for a while the playfulness of the 12 year old protagonist and her friend. Put aside their childish antics. Let’s not pretend. The Little Friend, is a dark dark story and it starts with a boy hanging from a tree. Murder.

It is the story of a haunting by the apparitions of death and memories. They stand in the room in the dark corners at the edge of the light. You know they’re there but you close your eyes and think of something else. As if that would make them less real. But they stay; a reminder of a decayed past that still breathes and grips you until you look at their faces and affirm their presence. But we turn away and deny their existence. And this becomes our self-inflicted fear.

Think The Skeleton Key. Think magnificent white houses, eerie and surrounded by water tupelo trees and the swampy marshlands of the Gulf Coast. Think New Orleans, gumbo and jambalaya. Think of the hanging boy in the tree.

Harriet Cleve Dufresnes sees this haunting. She was 2 months old when the haunting began. Her brother Robin was found hanging from a tupelo tree in her backyard. Dead at 9, his was death too tragic to deal with and one which spelt the demise of Harriet’s own family. Unsolved, it led to the departure of Harriet’s father to another town. Work, apparently. Harriet’s mother, Charlotte is overcome by guilt and grief and never recovers becoming only a shell, sleeping during the day, and just drifting day by day. Her mind lost, and wallowing in pain yet no one talks about Robin. Charlotte’s coterie of aunts all living nearby – spinsters and widows – provide Harriet with the motherly care she craves but does not get from Charlotte.

There is some comic relief in the form of Hely Hull, Harriet’s best friend and loyal sidekick – my favourite character so far (I’m up to page 280). Together with Harriet (who he is hopeless in love with, by the way) the duo set off to investigate the strange death of her brother and exact revenge on the person they suspect to be the killer.

I’m past the mid-point of the book, and somewhat languishing for a few weeks now in the middle of conversations between the ‘villains’ of the book, the Ratliffs (Danny, Farish, Eugene and Curtis). I’ve been in and out, listening to them talk about snakes and healing, about God’s calling and preaching the Word. I find this part boring and have skipped a few paragraphs only to go back to read them just in case I missed something important for the later part of the book. (See Part 2)

Up to this point of the book, I’m enjoying Tartt’s style of writing. I suppose the pace is alright for me generally. Just the part with the Ratliffs I find tiresome. I love the way Tartt describes things, her diction for the different characters. I’m having a laugh reading through Harriet’s housekeeper Ida Rhew’s dialogue, imagining how she’d sound like. I used to dislike listening to Southern American English but this book’s changed that for me.

This ends Part 1 of my review for The Little Friend, by Donna Tartt.