Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt


The Secret History by Donna Tartt / My rating: ★★★★★

One sentence summary: Richard Papen leaves California to go to a quaint college in Vermont where he studies Ancient Greek and partakes in murder.

“Do you think they’ll start looking tonight?” 

“They’ll look for him, certainly. Whether they’ll look in the right place is something else.”

No one said anything for a moment. Charles, thoughtfully, rattled the ice in his glass. “You know,” he said, “we’ve done a terrible thing.” 

Genre: Contemporary

Plot: THIS BOOK. Wow. The word ‘masterful’ comes to mind. The Secret History has the exact atmosphere I love most in books, movies, TV shows, life itself: ominous, quintessential New England; chilly weather, foggy skies, old brick buildings that offer a sense of the past. And I always fall for stories about pretentious rich kids in an academic setting, not to mention mythological elements. The Secret History is all of these things. It’s also creepy. It’s disturbing. It’s a tragedy. It’s a long read, a dense read and a slow read. This book took its time, but I found it very easy to get lost in it. The first line of the book reveals that the characters commit murder, but it’s not a whodunit, it’s a whydoneit, and mystery of why is what had me turning page after page and set the entire book with a fantastic kind of tension. I enjoyed every bit of this book.

Characters: THESE CHARACTERS. They were fantastic. I wanted to hate them. I did hate them. I loved them? I felt bad for loving them? I actually didn’t feel bad for loving them but felt that I should be? Basically, the main characters are a group of six select students who exclusively study Ancient Greek with one teacher, whom they revere. They are ostentatious, they are selfish, they are indulgent. They disgusted me and terrified me; I felt bad for them even though they deserved everything coming to them. Most of all, they were so interesting- outrageouslyscandalously, intellectually interesting, and they kept me reading just as much as the plot did, if not more so.

Writing: Like the characters, like the plot, like everything about this book, the writing was fantastic. It was rich and detailed but it moved so smoothly; it was dense but I never got caught up in the density. It’s vivid; Tartt is fantastic with atmosphere, setting, and tension. The story is told well and it read well. The Secret History is one of those books that reminded me of just how much of an art writing really is.

Was I satisfied? Yes! The only thing – and this has everything to do with myself and not the book – is I feel that if I’d read this book a few years ago, when I was a bit younger – if all the books I’d read over the years had not jaded me so much – I wonder if I would have found this book much more shocking. I wonder if it was a very shocking book for the year it came out (1992), and if I’d been old enough to read it then I would have been more scandalized. Maybe I just have a heart of stone. Still, it was fantastic, it was a wild, freaky ride, and I was entirely satisfied.

11 thoughts on “Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

  1. I do not read a lot of contemporary titles, but I admit I was hooked with the one sentence sumnmary! Your review is even more convincing. I completely understand when you find yourself thinking about if you had read the book at a younger age. I have thought about this with several titles recently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! It is very much a tragedy and a contemporary…but it’s has some thriller aspects and a freaky mythological element to it. Which I don’t know if that sells it to you, or makes you want to back away further, haha. But actually, while I was reading it, I kept finding myself comparing it to The Raven Boys- both sets of characters in these books share a similar romanticized way of life, and I found the atmospheres of both books alike- though The Secret History is much darker. Kind of like it’s the Raven Cycle’s significantly grandiose, vain, and drug addicted older sibling. Which again, I don’t know if that makes you more intrigued, or not!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: January Reads | lost: purple quill

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