The Secret History – Donna Tartt

Published February 3, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning….

What did I think?:

I have come across Donna Tartt’s writing only once before in The Little Friend, although I read it a long time ago, and to be honest can’t remember much about it, so when I got The Goldfinch as a present and heard all the hype about how wonderful it was, I knew I had to read her debut novel, The Secret History. We are introduced to a teenager called Richard Papen, who is disillusioned with his life, has a somewhat difficult relationship with his parents, and is unsure what he wants to do with himself – until he comes across a brochure for Hampden College which seems to hold the answers he is looking for. On enrolling at the college, he becomes fascinated by an elite group of students that dissociate themselves from others, and study Greek under a mysterious and elusive Professor that is very selective about the students that he takes on. The group consists of a set of twins Camilla and Charles who are incredibly secretive and seem to spend all their time together, Francis who provides a country home that the group often uses as a refuge, Henry who is a literary genius but also quite calculating in his personality and the eccentric joker Bunny who provides the means for our narrator Richard, to enter the group by taking him under his wing.

As soon as the novel begins we are told that there has been a murder, and we are aware of the unfortunate victim. From there, Richard takes us back to when he joined the group, and it is only then when the dynamics of the differing personalities and the group as a whole is explored that we begin to understand the dangers that lurk between a group that shuts itself off so rigidly from “normal” society, and learn about the great passion (or obsession, in some cases) that they have with studying classical Greek.

Personally, I found this an absolutely fascinating and thrilling novel that moved along at a steady pace, and felt much shorter than it actually is. I understand from reading other reviews that some people have issues with the amount of time that the characters spend smoking, drinking, doing nothing etc and I can see the case for disliking the novel because of this, but I found the writing so beautiful that I was able to put aside those elements and just enjoy the story. No, I didn’t necessarily like the characters, but that does not mean I have to dislike the book. In fact, it was because I disliked some characters intensely that I kept reading, as I felt that made them slightly more INTERESTING. Anyway, I can’t wait to read The Goldfinch now to see if it lives up to the hype, and to compare it to this strange but fantastic piece of writing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



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