The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Published: October 6th 1992
Genre: Fiction, Adult
Rating: 5/5 stars
Synopsis: 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 for ever.
I’ve been putting off writing this review for a few weeks now. Not because I don’t want to talk about it, or because I don’t love it. It’s because I genuinely don’t know what to say, or where to start. From my 5 star rating, you can see that I loved this book. But how do I explain The Secret History to you?
The first interesting thing about this book is that the starting scene is both reveals a lot, and leaves you with enough questions so you’ll continue reading quickly to find your answers. You know that this group of students killed one of their friends. You also know which friend they killed. But you have no clue why, or how they got to this point.
The whole story is told through the viewpoint of Richard, a guy from California. He feels very unsatisfied with his life there, and kind of hates California in general. He wants to change environment, and honestly get away from his parents too. He finds a folder for a college in New England, and all the green and snow seems like paradise to him. So he applies, and decides to go there. After a little while, he decides to follow the classic studies, under one teacher. They focus on Greek and Latin.
I’m going to be honest and say that I’m glad I had basic knowledge of Ancient Greek, Latin and French. It helped me understand a lot of dialogue in this novel. I do think that you’d still enjoy it if you don’t know any Latin, Greek or French as they do explain it often afterwards.
This book is mainly about the murder, and about Richard being included in the group studying the classics. The teacher rarely ever takes on students, so with Richard included, he only has 6 students. Because they don’t really have any other classes (aside from French) they are very dependent on each other.
This friendship is really interesting. The dynamics within the group are just so unique. Because you see everything through Richard’s perspective, it’s incredibly subjective. This way, my opinion on all of the characters changed so often throughout the book! At first, I disliked Henry, and loved Charles and Bunny. By the middle, Henry was so intriguing and fascinating to me, and I loathed Bunny. I always admire authors who are capable of writing such complex characters. They truly felt like real people to me. Yet at the same time, I felt distant from them, because I can’t wrap my head around their lives and what they did. It was a unique feeling: to simultaneously feel like they are real people, yet not.
I don’t want to say anything about the plot, because it would truly spoil your experience. All you really need to know is that Richard talks about his life at that college. His first year studying the classics with Henry, Bunny, Charles, Camilla and Francis. It’s written so that it seems like Richard is writing this to you when he is much older. At times, he comments on certain things as his present person. For example: “When I look back on it, …”. I highly enjoyed this writing style!
It did take me a while to read this book. I think it took me about a week? It’s definitely not a quick read, at least not for me, but I enjoyed taking my time with it. I absorbed much more of it because it took me longer.
I would highly recommend this book. It’s a unique experience, I can’t say I’ve ever read anything like it before. The characters were complex, intriguing and I always changed my mind about them. The story sounds incredulous at first, and I could not wrap my head around a group of friends killing a person. And when I found out what happened, wow! If you’ve read this book, let me know! At a certain point, I kind of didn’t mind that they killed him. Did you feel the same way? Even though I would be him in this scenario, I still didn’t mind that they killed him. It’s such a weird experience, to sympathize with killers your own age!