Joseph Heller was once told that he had never written anything as good as Catch-22; he replied tersely, ‘Who has?’ Donna Tartt, too, has experienced the curse of an immensely successful first novel, which set an unwanted benchmark for future work. Her stylish debut, The Secret History, an icy portrayal of an elite group of university students in Vermont, became a publishing sensation when it appeared in 1992. Its narrator stated in the prologue: ‘This is the only story I will ever be able to tell’ – a remark that proved ironic, in view of the ten-year wait for Tartt’s second novel.
The Little Friend chronicles the decline of the once rich Cleve family in Mississippi. Unable to adapt to a harsher life, they create their own mythology. They retell past events again and again, varnishing over reality, and ‘arriving at a single song ... which slowly eroded memory and came to