Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published September 1992 by Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Source: bought this one

Publisher's Summary:
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

The Secret History tells of a small circle of friends at an esteemed college in New England, whose studies in Classical Greek lead them to odd rituals, shocking behavior--and murder.

My Thoughts:
Well, yeah. I can't tell you how much I wanted this to top The Goldfinch which I so enjoyed, which painted such vivid pictures for me. So many people have told me how great this book is, but...

Lacking the grand scope of The Goldfinch, The Secret History is almost claustrophobic in it's setting, almost entirely set on the campus of a small New England college in a small Vermont town. It also lacks, surprisingly, much action. I say "surprisingly" because, as you'll notice in the publisher's summary, murder is involved. Yet, at over 500 pages, the actual act of killing takes up very little space. So it's not a book that pulled me along. In fact, I really had to make myself pick it up and read it. Which isn't altogether a fault; in fact it may be considered a true mark of Tartt's success.

Tartt has populated The Secret History with a group of the least likable characters I've ever "met" in a book. Five arrogant, privileged intellectual friends (who struck me as more bored and looking for something to alleviate that than eccentric) befriend a blue-collar boy (Richard) hiding behind a lie of wealth. Or do they? And, for that matter, are they really even friends? They sure as heck are not nice people. Any time Tartt gave one of them a touch of sympathy, created a little softness, she quickly snatched it back. Even poor Richard, who should have been the most sympathetic character was more often someone I wanted to slap. Except for his awful parents, ever bad situation in found himself in was more his doing than the fault of anyone else.

I knew that every time I picked up this book, I'd just be frustrated with Richard, disgusted with the rest of the group, and disappointed with the so-called adults in this book who were almost nothing more than Charles Schultz adults - all noise and nothing helpful about them. My brain hurt reading this book. Seriously. Everyone's motivations were suspect. I was constantly second-guessing what I thought to be true about situations, characters. To read this book, you have to be all in. I couldn't sit and read on the sofa while the hubby watched television in the same room which is kind of my usual m.o. I still don't really know why some of the characters did what they did. And if you're okay with that, and you're okay with a slowly-paced, character-driven novel, The Secret History might appeal to you. I'm still trying to figure out if it appealed to me or not.


  1. Yeah I think I'll pass on this one. Between the sheer volume, the slow plot and the really awful sounding characters I don't think this is a book for me. This sounds like the kind of book I end making deals with myself to read "I'll read 50 pages today and then I can put it down and read something fun." Thanks for sharing!

  2. What was she trying to say with her book, I wonder? Sorry it wasn't something you enjoyed. But great review as always!

  3. I read this a long time ago, but I recall really enjoying it. I still recall reading on the beach in Aruba:)

  4. So, you are saying that as long as I read this one before The Goldfinch, I should be fine. Right? ;)

  5. I don't get why this is such a cult classic myself. I reacted to it pretty much as you did, and my 22 year old daughter actually hated it (and she's a Classics major and read it because of that connection). I'm finally about to start The Goldfinch, so I'm glad to hear you liked that one.