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The Secret History

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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 they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last - 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 they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last - inexorably - into evil.


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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 they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last - 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 they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last - inexorably - into evil.

30 review for The Secret History

  1. 4 out of 5

    Rebecca

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. This novel, like so many other first novels, is full of everything that the author wants to show off about herself. Like a freshman who annoys everyone with her overbearing sense of importance and unfathomable potential, Donna Tartt wrote this book as though the world couldn't wait to read about all of the bottled-up personal beliefs, literary references, and colorfully apt metaphors that she had been storing up since the age of 17. The most fundamentally unlikable thing about this book is that a This novel, like so many other first novels, is full of everything that the author wants to show off about herself. Like a freshman who annoys everyone with her overbearing sense of importance and unfathomable potential, Donna Tartt wrote this book as though the world couldn't wait to read about all of the bottled-up personal beliefs, literary references, and colorfully apt metaphors that she had been storing up since the age of 17. The most fundamentally unlikable thing about this book is that all of the characters -- each and every one of them -- are snobby, greedy, amoral, pretentious, melodramatic, and selfish. The six main characters are all students at a small and apparently somewhat undemanding college in Vermont, studying ancient Greek with a professor who's so stereotypically gay as to be a homosexual version of a black-face pantomime. In between bouts of translating Greek, the students end up murdering two people, and then devolve into incoherent, drunken, boring decay. The best thing I can equate this book to is the experience of listening to someone else's dream or listening to a very drunk friend ramble on and on and on, revealing a little too much awkward personal information in the process. The climax of The Secret History's narrative was around page 200, but the book was 500 pages long. So, essentially, this book contained 300 pages of scenes where the characters do nothing but drink alcohol, smoke cigarettes, go to the hospital for drinking so much alcohol and smoking so many cigarettes, get pulled over for drunk driving, talk about alcohol and cigarettes, do cocaine, and gossip about each other (while drinking alcohol and smoking cigarettes). Tartt's writing was sometimes genuinely good at establishing a thrilling and suspenseful mood, but other times, especially toward the end, her writing became the kind of self-conscious, contrived, empty prose that I can imagine someone writing just to fill out a page until a good idea comes to them, kind of like how joggers will jog in place while waiting for a traffic light. That kind of writing practice is fine...as long as the editor is smart enough to cut it before the final copy. The last 300 pages were the authorial equivalent of that kind of jogging while going nowhere, and it soured the whole book for me. In the book's attempt to comment on the privilege, self-interest, and academic snobbery of rich college kids in New England, the book itself comes to be just as self-absorbed and obsessive as its characters -- it turns into a constant litany of unnecessary conversations, sexual tensions that go nowhere, purple prose descriptions of the landscape, contrived plot twists that fizzle out, and forced, overblown metaphors. The confusing part was that Tartt seemed to identify with (and expect us to identify with) these students -- not to admire them for murdering people, obviously, but to respect and envy their precious contempt for everything modern and popular, as though they lived on a higher plane than normal people. The cliche of academic types being remote from the mundane world and out of touch with reality may have a grain of truth to it, but Tartt took that cliche way too far. The story is set in the early 90s, and yet some of the characters had never heard of ATMs, and they still wrote with fountain pens, drove stick shift cars, cultivated roses in their backyards, wore suits and ties to class, and said things like, "I say, old man!" Did I mention that this story is set in the early 90s? It got to the point where all the anachronisms came to seem ridiculous and gratuitous. Ostensibly, the point of the novel was to critique the point of view that privileged academics are somehow superior to the average person, but Tartt seemed too enamored of her own characters and the endearing way they held cigarettes between their fingers to really allow that kind of critique to be successful. Maybe Tartt's second novel managed to get away from the claustrophobic selfishness of The Secret History, but I don't feel up to reading it after this.

  2. 3 out of 5

    Maggie Stiefvater

    Five Things About The Secret History. This is going to be a difficult book for me to talk about. I finished it days ago but I find myself a little verklempt, I’ll admit. It’s been a long time since a book has stuck with me so completely as this one, and I say that having had a quite remarkable year for memorable reading. So, the summary is straightforward and completely unhelpful: a Californian boy arrives at a private New England college where he falls in with a bunch of snooty but delightful C Five Things About The Secret History. This is going to be a difficult book for me to talk about. I finished it days ago but I find myself a little verklempt, I’ll admit. It’s been a long time since a book has stuck with me so completely as this one, and I say that having had a quite remarkable year for memorable reading. So, the summary is straightforward and completely unhelpful: a Californian boy arrives at a private New England college where he falls in with a bunch of snooty but delightful Classics majors who happen to have accidentally killed someone during a Bacchian rite they just happened to be conducting in their spare time. That is a totally truthful depiction of some of the events in the book, but it is not what the book is ABOUT. I will do my best to convince you to pick it up in other ways. Without further ado, here are five things about THE SECRET HISTORY. 1. This is not a new book. All of your friends have already read it. You probably already have a copy of it, actually, that you picked up at some point in the last decade, and now it molders in a box in your master bedroom closet, the one that you never unpacked last time you moved. Right next to your college alarm clock and two boxes of 9-volt batteries and that shirt you can’t throw out because it was a gift. The reason why I’m pointing out that it’s not a new book is because, since reading it, I’ve been told by several people that it is their Favorite Book Ever. It is one thing for you to read a book six months before and maintain it as a Favorite Book. It is something more remarkable when a book can elicit a passionate response from readers twenty years after its publication. 2. This book is full of terrible people. Pretty much the lot of the people that our narrator Richard meets are awful in some way. Self-centered or elitist or potheads or sociopathic or just people with really loud voices in quiet places. Even Richard is not exactly a great guy. But the magic of this novel is that, somehow, you find these terrible people deeply sympathetic. I need to go back and reread it to understand this strange enchantment. How do I find them so charming? Why do I want them to like Richard? GIVE ME YOUR SECRETS, BOOK. 3. This is not a whodunit. You are told pretty much the Bad Thing That Happens in the prologue, and you can see it coming like a comet for much of the book. The effect of this, however, is to create a lovely, unbearable tension and anticipation. And when the moment comes — in a line that involves ferns — it is so deliciously awful. I actually exhaled gloriously and put the book down for a moment because I was so delighted by the actual pay off. 4. It’s long. It’s over 200,000 words long, I think, and 600 pages in my edition. It took me five days to read it. And it’s not just long, it’s dense. One of the blurbs on the inside of the jacket said that it read like a 19th century novel, and I don’t think that’s at all unearned. It takes its time developing atmosphere and character quirks and some of the days in the novel take dozens of pages to unfold. It is not a novel to speed through. It’s a novel to get stuck in. I put it down when I got too tired, when I felt like I was starting to skim. 5. WHAT ELSE CAN I SAY? I adore the characters so much. I adore the hint —the breath — of the supernatural. I adore the slow, building tension and the sense that I, as a reader, was being skillfully manipulated. Yes, that. That last one. I think that is what I love the most about this novel. I get the idea that Donna Tartt was completely in control of this novel. Everything is measured and deliberate and just perfectly done, and I trust her entirely. Fifty pages in, I knew that she was going to tell me a story I was going to enjoy, even if I had no idea what it was going to be. Man, I just am going to flail about some more. Go read it.

  3. 3 out of 5

    Martine

    The first paragraph of The Secret History roughly sums up the mood of the book. In it, the narrator, Richard Papen, says that he thinks his fatal flaw is 'a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs'. If you can relate to these words, chances are you'll love The Secret History. If not, you'll probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Personally, I can totally relate to these words, so I love the book. I've read it over half a dozen times, and while I do think it has its problems, I never The first paragraph of The Secret History roughly sums up the mood of the book. In it, the narrator, Richard Papen, says that he thinks his fatal flaw is 'a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs'. If you can relate to these words, chances are you'll love The Secret History. If not, you'll probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Personally, I can totally relate to these words, so I love the book. I've read it over half a dozen times, and while I do think it has its problems, I never fail to find it utterly gripping. The Secret History is both an intellectual novel of ideas and a murder mystery without the whodunnit element. The reader learns right on the first page that Richard and his friends have killed one among their midst. The rest of the book goes on to explain how they came to their gruesome deed and what happened to them afterwards. Against all odds, it makes for compelling reading, despite the fact that you know right from the start who the killers are. Such is the power of Tartt's writing that you find yourself turning page after page, waiting for answers, justifications and possibly a sign of remorse. Once these have been dealt with, the book loses a bit of its power, but until that time, it's near perfect. Donna Tartt's great gift as a writer is her magnificent talent for description. Her evocation of life at a small private university in New England with its oddball mix of ivory-tower intellectuals and ditzy cokeheads is rich in detail, both shocking and funny. If it's not entirely realistic, she makes it so. Likewise, her skill at characterisation is superb. While Richard is not entirely convincing as a male narrator (a fact I find more noticeable every time I re-read the book), he and his friends make up a fascinating cast of characters: six aloof, self-absorbed and arrogant intellectuals who are obsessed with ancient Greece and don't particularly care for modern life. They're snobs and they have major issues, but somehow that only makes them more alluring. Together, they form the ultimate inner circle, the kind of tight-knit group you know should always stay together. Which makes it almost understandable that they should be willing to kill anyone who might jeopardise that group dynamic, incomprehensible though this may seem to the average reader. I can think of many reasons why The Secret History strikes such a chord with me. For one thing, I have a thing for timeless and ethereal stories, and this is one of those. Somehow the book has a dreamlike, almost hypnotic quality, despite it being very firmly set in the rather unromantic 1980s. I love that. For another thing, I have always been drawn to the unabashedly intellectual, and this book has that in spades. It makes geekdom alluring, and I just love Tartt for that. I wish I were as geeky as Henry! Ultimately, what I think I respond to most in The Secret History is the friendship aspect. The Secret History is very much a book about friendship. It's about the very human yearning to belong and be accepted by people we admire. It's about the sacrifices we make to keep friendships intact, the insecurity we feel when we think we might not be completely accepted by our friends after all, and the paranoia we experience when it seems our friends may have betrayed us. About the feeling of invincibility we get from having great friends, and the melancholy and loneliness that follow the disintegration of a once-great friendship. The book basically reads like an elegy on a great friendship, and one doesn't necessarily have to share Richard's intellectual attitude towards life, his morality or even his morbid longing for the picturesque to be able to relate to that. It's enough to have yearned for close friendship and been insecure in friendship. And let's face it, who hasn't? I do not think The Secret History is a perfect book. As I said, I find Richard somewhat unconvincing as a male character; there is too much about him that screams 'female author' to me. Furthermore, the ending is decidedly weak, although to be fair, I have no idea how else Tartt could have finished her book. The story does seem to be inexorably heading in that particular direction. Insofar as the ending reflects the disintegration that is going on in the characters' lives, it could probably be said to be appropriate. Still, I wish Tartt could have come up with something on a par with the rest of the book. If she had, this would have been a six-star book. I don't know many of those.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Paquita Maria Sanchez

    First of all, if you are one of those people who dismiss a book as inherently bad simply because you "just couldn't relaaa-yeeete to aunnny of the charaaactaaaars *gum smack-smack-smack*" then do not read this book. If you can relate to anyone in this novel, then I dismiss you as inherently bad. In fact, I fucking hate you. Yes, you, because my guess is that, as a modern-day example of all the characters in this novel, you probably have a goodreads account, and read nothing but "tome-suh" and wr First of all, if you are one of those people who dismiss a book as inherently bad simply because you "just couldn't relaaa-yeeete to aunnny of the charaaactaaaars *gum smack-smack-smack*" then do not read this book. If you can relate to anyone in this novel, then I dismiss you as inherently bad. In fact, I fucking hate you. Yes, you, because my guess is that, as a modern-day example of all the characters in this novel, you probably have a goodreads account, and read nothing but "tome-suh" and write snide, condescending, long-winded comments and boring as a brochure reviews jerking off whatever dense novelist or philosopher had previously caught the fancy of whatever other dense novelist or philosopher you had previously jerked off. You blindly, unquestioningly, and completely assume the opinions of the few people on planet Earth who you so happen to think are, by some random blip in the universe, smarter than you. Oh, and remember when we went on that date when I was in Austin, and it was the worst night of my life? You just wanted to hear yourself talk, and you acted so astonished to have some wittle woman laughing at your prefab philosophical wankery? Coffee house intellectuals, here is your mirror. Now shuddup. What a pressure-cooker. This is a 500+ that you read like a 200-pager, and watching Donna Tartt unspin her spool is really a delight (damn, you mean it's an enjoyable novel?? Pass!). Basically, I don't want to give too much away, but a bunch of insufferable Classics students get swept up in an Ancient Greek religious ceremony which results in some very real entanglements with both the law and icky human nature. Gosh, I really can't say much else without dowsing you in the spoilies, and I don't want to be an asshole. Like every single character in this story. I truly cannot stress that enough. The best aspect of the novel for me was witnessing the aftermath of an untimely death. One of the main reasons I despise facebook at this point in my life is witnessing the carnage that ensues when someone passes away. All that misplaced emotional exhibitionism. Tartt really nails it when she's discussing the ricocheting effect that the death of our just godawfully full of shit character "Bunny" has on his campus*. All those melodramatic boo-hoos like everybody in the entire city knew him oh-so-well. I've watched this happen several times, and it kinda makes me sick in my gut-parts, and embarrassed for everyone, forever. It's one thing to mourn, but it's quite another to leach on other peoples' misery and milk it for attention or just something to do, and the death of a young person just really brings that out in people. And man, Tartt pins it down here. And it's gross and awkward, like it do. *This is not a spoiler, unless you consider something mentioned in literally the first sentence of the prologue to be a spoiler. Oh, the narrator, you ask? Yeah, he's an asshole, too. Don't seek comfort there, because he's basically nothing more than a lie factory wallpapered in tweed. In fact, it's really pretty rare to come across so many awful people in a single novel unless you're reading, say, Wuthering Heights. If there is even one slightly endurable character in the novel, it is Camilla, and she just sort of flitters in and out of scenes, apparition-esque, nigh unreadable, almost like one of Jeffrey Euginedes' virgins. And she spends all her time with these windbags, so... I don't know what else to say. Murder mystery. Late 80's, early 90's private college setting. Prep school intellectual snoots with lossa monies. Shiny prose. Fast pace woven out of not too much actual plot. Good shit all around. Thanks are once again in order to goodreader Janice for spoiling me with wonderful free things. And she gave me not one, but two Donna Tartt novels! Thanks, Janice! Did I review better this time? No? Well, there's still hope. I may revisit this and essplain myself better than my "I woke up at noon and haven't had coffee yet" self is able, but every time I say that it ends up just being an empty promise. Almost as empty as the characters in this novel. And you if you are the sort of person who relates to the characters in this novel. Let me restate how much I hate you.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Melanie

    “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” I have never read anything like this book in my entire life. I laid in bed for over an hour last night upon finishing this book, just tossing and turning and thinking about everything I just consumed. I still don’t think I can put my feelings into words, but I can honestly say this book was a cathartic experience for me, and the irony of the word “catharsis” being a Greek rooted word is not lost on me, because if this book i “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” I have never read anything like this book in my entire life. I laid in bed for over an hour last night upon finishing this book, just tossing and turning and thinking about everything I just consumed. I still don’t think I can put my feelings into words, but I can honestly say this book was a cathartic experience for me, and the irony of the word “catharsis” being a Greek rooted word is not lost on me, because if this book is anything it’s a modern day Greek tragedy. The Secret History is told in a unique style, which is a man reminiscing on some significant events that took place in his college life a bit over a year ago. So, we follow a younger version of Richard, who is finally starting his life away from his abusive and poor family in California. He gets accepted into an elite college in Vermont, and moves across the county in hopes of a fresh start. Upon arriving to the college, Richard is denied entry into an Ancient Greek course, because the professor that teaches it only allows enrollment to his small, handpicked, group of students that seem almost cult-like. Needless to say, Richard becomes utterly obsessed with the five students in this group and the professor, Julian Morrow, himself. And with a turn of good luck, and by solving a Greek problem, Richard is accepted into this exclusive group. Yet, in the prologue we find out that Richard, and four others from the group, murdered one of the other students who they are supposed to have a very close friendship with. The Secret History is then told in two parts, one being the events that took place leading up to the death of their fellow classmate, and then one part being all the events that take place after he is murdered. Bunny is the poor soul that is unfortunately murdered by his peers, yet he’s a racist bigot and you’ll be kind of happy he’s dead, for the most part. Richard, as stated in all the paragraphs above, is the narrator looking back on the events that took place. Henry is my personal favorite, but perhaps the worst of the bunch. Or maybe the best, I’m not really sure, but that’s truly the beauty of this story. Twins, Charles and Camilla. Charles is a bad alcoholic and drug user, and Camilla steals most people’s heart and/or affection. And lastly, we have Francis, who owns a country home that is the stage for many events that take place in this book. Oh, and everyone but Richard has money, even though Richard tries his damnedest to keep that a secret. “What we did was terrible, but still I don't think any of us were bad, exactly; chalk it up to weakness on my part, hubris on Henry’s, too much Greek prose composition – whatever you like.” All the characters are morally grey to just generally horrible people, but you completely ignore it because Donna Tartt weaves this hypnotic spell with her writing, that you feel like you are reading this book in a dream like lull. The Secret History is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever read anything quite like it again. I also want to touch upon sexuality in this book, because a lot of the members in this group are not straight in the slightest. Like, maybe the only ones that were completely straight were Bunny and Camilla. I’m not saying that the queerness in this book is vilified, but it’s for sure not shown in the best of lights. So please use caution while going into this. And this book is so very heavy in general, so please use caution while reading. Content/Trigger warnings for slut shaming, use of the R word, homophobia, hate speech, fatphobic comments, racist comments, animal cruelty, sexual assault, incest, performing rituals, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and murder. I know this review is probably not one of my best, and I know I’m being super vague about all these big themes, but this book is just on a whole other level. Maybe this book is about five new adults dealing with the consequences of murder in a very human and realistic way. Maybe it’s about how we are all just trying to fit in and find family, by whatever unhealthy means available and/or possible. Maybe this book is about birth and death and how important the time between those two points truly is. But I do believe with my whole heart that this book would best be experienced blind, and to just go in and feel all the feelings that Donna Tartt will serve you. While finishing the book, me and Paloma had a discussion about the ending and how Greek heroes’ tales normally go. We talked about how murder taints everything, and how blood is the only thing that can purify it. We talked about how wearing masks is so important, yet death is another mask that we will all eventually wear. God, I’m being so cryptic, but if you’ve read the book maybe this paragraph will mean something to you, because it means the world to me. Overall, I know I sound like a broken record, but this was one of the most unique reading experiences of my life. I honest to God just do not have the words to put in this review how this book made me feel. I will say that it very much feels like a spell is being cast upon you while reading. Like, I am almost positive that Donna Tartt cannot be a human being, because she is such an exclusive enigma. Also, I think I’ve developed a huge crush on her, so there’s that at least. I can say very confidently that I will remember this book, and the feelings it gave me while reading, for the rest of my life. “Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.” Blog | Twitter | Tumblr | Instagram | Youtube | Twitch Buddy read with Paloma! ❤

  6. 3 out of 5

    Paul Bryant

    Apparently the New York Times described The Secret History as "Powerful...Enthralling...A ferociously well-paced entertainment" and Time said "A smart, craftsman-like, viscerally compelling novel." Very funny, guys, ha ha and all that. They're such jolly jokesters. They'll have you believing anything. The Secret History is complete tripe - no, that's harsh, let me put it another way - it's COMPLETE TRIPE - oh dear, this keyboard has a mind of its own! and is very firm about its opinions too! - b Apparently the New York Times described The Secret History as "Powerful...Enthralling...A ferociously well-paced entertainment" and Time said "A smart, craftsman-like, viscerally compelling novel." Very funny, guys, ha ha and all that. They're such jolly jokesters. They'll have you believing anything. The Secret History is complete tripe - no, that's harsh, let me put it another way - it's COMPLETE TRIPE - oh dear, this keyboard has a mind of its own! and is very firm about its opinions too! - but this book is also the literary equivalent of novocaine and it's just so cozy. SPACE FOR GIF OF COZY CUTEY KITTY Oooh Donna. Just another bowl of bananas and custard and a whopping plateful of classical references and allusions; and a murder. And ladle on all the upper class schmooze for us. You knowwwwww what I like! Tickle my tootsies and call me something Latin...ooooh. This book puts you in the kind of trance where you don't mind that The Secret History is mercilessly ripped off from Brideshead Revisited. Well, I didn't mind at all because I hadn't read Brideshead Revisited then, which I suspect most of young Donna's readers hadn't either and I further suspect the reviewers of The New York Times and Time hadn't. Or they'd have run her out of town on a rail, if that still happens (I haven't seen it done for years). Oh Donna, oh Donna how does that old song go? I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me. Three stars though! Sometimes it's fun to be fooled.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Okay, this book. This book was a lot of fun, partially, I think, because it was written in this fashion which made determining whether this was past, present or future virtually impossible. It was very romantically written and I tend to go for that sort of thing: simple meals of tomato soup and skim milk, five college-aged students who drink tea as well as burbon, scotch and on occasion whiskey--but not with anything as muddled and middle-class as coke mixed in--no, they drink it on ice, in thic Okay, this book. This book was a lot of fun, partially, I think, because it was written in this fashion which made determining whether this was past, present or future virtually impossible. It was very romantically written and I tend to go for that sort of thing: simple meals of tomato soup and skim milk, five college-aged students who drink tea as well as burbon, scotch and on occasion whiskey--but not with anything as muddled and middle-class as coke mixed in--no, they drink it on ice, in thick lead-glass tumblers while spending weekends in a shabby (as only the very wealthy can have) weekend "cottage" which is actually a massive Victorian on the New England coast with a grounds keeper. The boys are called "eccentric" but eccentric doesn't quite cut it. They are like no boys I've ever met: dressing souly in dark suits and silken cravats, while the lone female is called Camilla, smokes, speaks with a gravely femme-fatale voice and wears over-sized cashmere sweaters and is compared, looks-wise, to Helen of Troy. This being said, perhaps it's not the most believable of novels, pray tell, however, it is EXACTLY what I LOVE in novels. Granted, there's a murder and some ghastly stuff, but I would much prefer life if it were like this: if No Fear T-shirts had never been invented, if teenagers said "I suppose" and didn't own televisions. If I really had met a girl in college who kept dusty tea-cups and water glasses filled with dandilions on her bedside table. It was a beautiful book with great character development. It got a little to "masterpiece theater" on me at the end and while one twist would have been enough, there was instead a teather of strings going every-which way...but man what a lovely way to get a little bored...It was so well written, so crisp and precise, so pretty and...novel-like. I haven't been so inspired by setting since Edith Wharton. Really. This would have been, sans the creepy, the way I HOPED my liberal arts experience would be, instead of over-weight girls with fake tans and highlights, birth-control contrived boobs and Ann Taylor, Banana Republic wanna-be classy with dimpled upper arms. I never met a Camilla, Charles or Henry. What a shame...kind of. I really prefer books to people. **I write on books and other stuff at www.snapshotnarrative.tumblr.com

  8. 5 out of 5

    Arah-Lynda

    And after we stood whispering in the underbrush – one last look at the body and a last look round, no dropped keys, lost glasses, everybody got everything? – and then started single file through the woods, I took one glance back through the saplings that leapt to close the path behind me. Though I remember the walk back and the first lonely flakes of snow that came drifting through the pines, remember piling gratefully into the car and starting down the road like a family on vacation, with Henry And after we stood whispering in the underbrush – one last look at the body and a last look round, no dropped keys, lost glasses, everybody got everything? – and then started single file through the woods, I took one glance back through the saplings that leapt to close the path behind me. Though I remember the walk back and the first lonely flakes of snow that came drifting through the pines, remember piling gratefully into the car and starting down the road like a family on vacation, with Henry driving clench-jawed through the potholes and the rest of us leaning over the seats and talking like children, though I remember only too well the long terrible night that lay ahead and the long terrible days and nights that followed, I have only to glance over my shoulder for all those years to drop away and I see it behind me again, the ravine, rising all green and black through the saplings, a picture that will never leave me. Donna Tartt had me from the first page. This was a story that I wanted to hear. Some where, inside, a door opened Onto a room I quite like it here I’m comfortable I belong Of course they are all here Henry, Francis, Charles, his sister Bunny And me. The dishes lay waiting to be washed The bed to be made The floor to be cleaned The cat to be fed Life’s detritus, tangled underfoot I read. I am complicit. I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell. An absolute masterpiece! Don't miss it. :)

  9. 4 out of 5

    Whitney Atkinson

    TW/ drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide ideation & attempts, incest I can’t believe I didn’t read this book sooner. It is one of my new favorites of all time, and certainly of the year. The melancholy tone of this is absolutely my jam. This type of narration with a passive, wallflower main character caught up in this life of glamour and being an outsider somehow permitted to the inside is one that never grows old to me. This book’s imagery was so rich and Richard’s inner monologue so moving that I TW/ drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide ideation & attempts, incest I can’t believe I didn’t read this book sooner. It is one of my new favorites of all time, and certainly of the year. The melancholy tone of this is absolutely my jam. This type of narration with a passive, wallflower main character caught up in this life of glamour and being an outsider somehow permitted to the inside is one that never grows old to me. This book’s imagery was so rich and Richard’s inner monologue so moving that I came out of it feeling like I’d just helped murder Bunny, too. This book is set in the winter, and even as I read this in the dead of summer, I was shivering along to the passages about snow in Vermont. It’s vivid to the point that it wasn’t even like I was watching a movie or seeing each scene; I feel like I became a character in the book. This book was published 5 years before I was born and yet I felt like I was there at Hampden college using payphones and smoking a pack a day. My only two complaints about it are that I wish we could have had equal character development of all the friends in Richard's group because it feels like we really got to know Henry and Francis but not so much Charles and Camilla. Also, because the plot point described in the synopsis occurs only halfway into a 550+ page book, the ending lost some steam. Regardless, I was completely lost in this book. This book took me upwards of two weeks to finish, but never once did I wish it would go by faster. It’s the first book that I’ve actually cherished every page in a while. Whereas tartt’s previous book I read, The Goldfinch, felt like it could have been 200 pages shorter, I relished every page of this. It’s philosophical without being pretentious. It’s melancholy without being fake edgy. I'm glad I read it while I'm still in college.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Joe Hill

    Someone just brought up Nietzsche’s Apollonian vs. Dionysian theory, which is described at the link below, if you are as unfamiliar as I was. http://www.geocities.com/danielmacrya... Apparently Donna Tartt was well-versed in this theme, as it is prevalent in The Secret History. The gist of Nietzsche’s theory is that the ancient Greeks attained such a high level of culture mainly due to their personal struggle between the opposing philosophies of Apollo and Dionysus; Apollo being the god of art, a Someone just brought up Nietzsche’s Apollonian vs. Dionysian theory, which is described at the link below, if you are as unfamiliar as I was. http://www.geocities.com/danielmacrya... Apparently Donna Tartt was well-versed in this theme, as it is prevalent in The Secret History. The gist of Nietzsche’s theory is that the ancient Greeks attained such a high level of culture mainly due to their personal struggle between the opposing philosophies of Apollo and Dionysus; Apollo being the god of art, and thus, stagnation, while Dionysus is the god of debauchery and barbarism, and thus, action. This struggle between appreciation for art and culture and a zeal for living is what Nietzsche credits for the Greeks impressive progress. He also believed that the only way we can progress today is to swing the pendulum toward Dionysus. I see Tartt’s Greek professor character as Apollonian—beautiful and seemingly wise, but in the end, shallow, and useless in times of tragedy. His students loved him, but they (or Henry, at least) realized the inherent stagnation in pouring over ancient texts and art--they needed a Dionysian push to move them forward to real progress. This is a rather obvious observation, I think it is even spelled out by the Henry character in the novel. However, the basis for Nietzsche’s theory, which I’m now sure Tartt was aware of, is that the basic will of humans is not to simply survive, but to survive at a level superior to that of your peers. Knowing this adds new colors to the tableau Tartt weaved for us, a story that is ultimately about class struggle (ala Philip Roth, hence, the faux-snubb reference). I think it tells us how carefully Tartt chose her vehicle for this story and reveals a little more of her brilliance.

  11. 3 out of 5

    Abby

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is like drinking the scotch the characters drink in the book: smooth, sweet, smoky and scalding. You keep drinking, having no idea how drunk your getting. Then you try to stand up and the world falls out from under your feet. The Secret History captured me from the first page with the introduction of the narrator, Richard, and his memories of Hampden College in Vermont. He falls in with a group of "Intellectuals" studying the Classics under the tutelage of an ec The Secret History by Donna Tartt is like drinking the scotch the characters drink in the book: smooth, sweet, smoky and scalding. You keep drinking, having no idea how drunk your getting. Then you try to stand up and the world falls out from under your feet. The Secret History captured me from the first page with the introduction of the narrator, Richard, and his memories of Hampden College in Vermont. He falls in with a group of "Intellectuals" studying the Classics under the tutelage of an eccentric professor. A few members of the group try to re-create the ecstasy of a Bacchanalian festival, and in a horrific turn of events, murder a local farmer while in their trance. While the murder is central to the story, it was the aftermath and VERY surprising ending kept me on the edge of my seat and reading until late in the night. Tartt has written an excellent novel, telling a great story, but also exploring and satirizing the stereotypes that pop-up in liberal arts colleges. Plug in any private liberal arts college and the story would read the same. It is also an interesting discussion about the place of the ancient ideals of honor, justice, beauty and piety in the modern world. Who possesses these traits and are they punished or rewarded? This is a book I highly recommend to anyone looking for a good, stirring read that will leave you feeling a little drunk and disoriented after the last page --- in a good way. :)

  12. 4 out of 5

    Zweegas

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. Okay, so let me see if I understand what's going on in this book: These college kids accidentally murder someone while participating in some ancient ritual which involves some form of alternate consciousness. Then, they're shockingly ho-hum about the entire thing because after all it was just some random farmhand or something who just accidentally happened to be around. They never ever discuss this murder. They don't even really feel bad about it until someone threatens to expose them. Plus, ins Okay, so let me see if I understand what's going on in this book: These college kids accidentally murder someone while participating in some ancient ritual which involves some form of alternate consciousness. Then, they're shockingly ho-hum about the entire thing because after all it was just some random farmhand or something who just accidentally happened to be around. They never ever discuss this murder. They don't even really feel bad about it until someone threatens to expose them. Plus, instead of ever discussing the potentially interesting details of their ritual, the book instead chooses to focus on the most boring aspects of the aftermath. There's an entire chapter devoted to a road trip which really needs to be cut out and replaced with: "Yeah, so, we all went to Bunny's funeral. His family was pretty much what we expected." There's a division between the first half of this book and the second half. I was really drawn in to the first half but as soon as the second half begins, it all goes downhill right until the ending which is the worst part of the whole stupid thing. I hate it when books do that. (My reading group's November / December 2006 book selection.)

  13. 3 out of 5

    Annet

    One of my all time favorites. It's been a while since I read it, have to reread it soon. Great story, very intelligent, very fascinating, keeps you going on and on page by page until the end. Remember reading it on a camping trip in Canada! Simply brilliant. Top ten best reads ever.

  14. 5 out of 5

    ✨ jamieson ✨

    "A month or two before, I would have been appalled at the idea of any murder at all. But that Sunday afternoon, as I actually stood watching one, it seemed the easiest thing in the world." this book starts and it's like: hello bitches, welcome to murder club. Here is Bunny, he is dead, he got murdered. strap the fuck in. This book is actually not funny at all. It's about murder, lots of it. In the first page we find out a group of friends killed one of their own - we know the who-dunnit, this "A month or two before, I would have been appalled at the idea of any murder at all. But that Sunday afternoon, as I actually stood watching one, it seemed the easiest thing in the world." this book starts and it's like: hello bitches, welcome to murder club. Here is Bunny, he is dead, he got murdered. strap the fuck in. This book is actually not funny at all. It's about murder, lots of it. In the first page we find out a group of friends killed one of their own - we know the who-dunnit, this is a book about the why this book fucking exposed me so bad. Why did I pick it up ? 'oh, it's got greek mythology mixed in and it's a classic' I lowkey read it for the aesthetic and not because I was interested in the plot which I mostly, did not know. And then what is it about ? people doing things for the aesthetic and getting fucking rekt But also, I heard it's like Kill Your Darlings anD I READ IT IMMEDIATELY. This book fulfills my need to see the holy trinity of dark academia: kill your darlings, dead poets society, the secret history “Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.” In all seriousness because this book is deadly serious (haha) it was surprisingly amazing I wasn't 100% sure what I was expecting, but I loved it much more then that. I was initially going to give it a 4*, but I couldn't think of a single reason why I was actually taking a star off. The writing itself is beautiful, and even if it is dense it is still wonderful. It flows, and I loved the style of the narration. I loved the way that it would flick between the present, and the day of the murder, so that things were slowly revealed. The plot itself was also great - it's split into two parts, the lead up to Bunny's death, and the events after. Although I think I liked the second part more, both were great. I don't read many mysteries, so maybe it's just me being a genre noob but I found the thrill of the story, and the mystery behind why this group of friends decided to kill one of their own THRILLING. I was so wrapped up in this story and the murder and why people did it and how they dealt with that afterwards. But beyond a shadow of a doubt, the highlight of this book is the characters. Deliciously diabolical, flawed to every degree, and yet loveable. They are all strange, and yet something about them is so grounded and realistic I was instantly drawn to them all. The facade they all put up, the way that aesthetic drove their reasoning. I mean, they are all such pretentious motherfuckers and yet something about it is endearing. Maybe it's because they are incredibly human, despite it all. All the characters dealt with an enormity of problems aside from the murder - and that made them relatable, even if they spoke in greek to eachother and smoked dramatically at 2am. I understand why so many of the reviews for this book are so vague now - because it is so hard to explain what this book is really about. It's so, so much more then I expected, and yet I can't even begin to explain to anyone why it's so much better I am SHOOK by this book, I am honestly reeling still about the ending, and everything that happened before that. I adore these characters, even though I fucking hate them so much, and I am so proud of myself, in a way, for reading this. Because it was a challenge for me, and I loved it. “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” Read this if you liked: The movies Kill Your Darlings or Dead Poets Society, or Maggie Stiefvaters The Raven Cycle

  15. 3 out of 5

    Adina

    DNF at 70% “If you love one book by a certain author it does not automatically mean you will enjoy all the author’s work” (Me, while reading The Secret History) . Before I begin my review I have to inform you that Goldfinch is one of my favorite novels. If you want, you can see my short review here. Based on that fact, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind of how much I love Donna Tartt’s writing. I thought it was perfect in the first novel I read by her, it kept me coming back for more each DNF at 70% “If you love one book by a certain author it does not automatically mean you will enjoy all the author’s work” (Me, while reading The Secret History) . Before I begin my review I have to inform you that Goldfinch is one of my favorite novels. If you want, you can see my short review here. Based on that fact, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind of how much I love Donna Tartt’s writing. I thought it was perfect in the first novel I read by her, it kept me coming back for more each day, even though the plot was not overly exciting all the time. Although many reviewers are of the opinion that Goldfinch was too long I thought that it could have had 1000 pages and I would have still savored all of them. The Secret History is a different story entirely. I will admit from the beginning that I did not find the subject too enticing when I read the blurb but, nevertheless, I was looking forward to dive into the novel because it was written by the wonderful Donna Tartt. The beautiful writing is still there, that is one of the few reasons that I made it this far. However, I have a few (read many) problems with the content and I will do my best to explain them below. Firstly, we have the insufferable, snobbish, self-absorbed characters. I am not the kind a reader that needs to like the characters but I want them to be interesting and vivid. The six students felt the same to me, even the main character did not possess any special trait. Maybe Bunny was the only one that gave me strong feelings; it almost brought me to the point where I thought it would be a good idea to be killed. The point is, I enjoy well done villains with interior conflicts but there were none to be found here. Secondly, there is the discrepancy between what I understood the book to be about and what it really was. The blurb states that .“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". Let’s begin with the first line, .“under the influence of their charismatic classic professor”. In all the 400 pages that I read I did not see the classic professor as a charismatic character. Actually, the professor was almost non-existent. We are sometimes told about him but when he actually appears in the picture he only has a few flat lines. Oh, and he smiles a lot. I was expecting the teacher and the intellectual conversation between him and the students to have an important presence in the novel, to challenge my thinking, but I was out of luck. I believe we are presented only one discussion from the class, which was essential for the plot, although I did not feel its importance when I read it. We are told about how great and eccentric this professor is but we never actually see it. I was expecting him to be some sort of a disguised devil if he manages to influence his students to commit murder but I do not see how their acts had anything to do with the professor. If anything, he was worried about them when they disappeared for a while and lost contact with them. Going forward, to .“a group of clever, eccentric misfits”. Same problem here, we are told and not showed how smart they were. A .“living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries”. basically means expensive restaurants, a mansion in the countryside and vacation in a palace in Rome. I guess it is a typical existence for people with money, not necessarily something out of ordinary that should deserve our awe. Their first act of “evil” felt underclimatic since, again, we are told about it, we do not actually experience it. It would have been a totally different experience to be there when it happened not to be told by it from a character after a month or so after the deed was done. Finally, I thought there was too much flat, useless dialogue. I wish I had an example to show but I always forget to take notes, sorry. I feel so disappointed for not liking this one but I am not losing my faith in Donna Tartt. I am sure her next book will amaze me once again.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dan Schwent

    When Richard Papen joins an exclusive group of Classics students, he has no idea of the secret world of drugs, alcohol, and violence he's about to be thrust into. When one of the students winds up dead, can the rest cope or destroy themselves? Yeah, it sounds like the crime books I usually read but it's a whole lot deeper than that. This is one of those Big Important Books, full of things like themes and literary references. Like Jim Thompson getting the sauce under control and writing about coll When Richard Papen joins an exclusive group of Classics students, he has no idea of the secret world of drugs, alcohol, and violence he's about to be thrust into. When one of the students winds up dead, can the rest cope or destroy themselves? Yeah, it sounds like the crime books I usually read but it's a whole lot deeper than that. This is one of those Big Important Books, full of things like themes and literary references. Like Jim Thompson getting the sauce under control and writing about college kids. While Donna Tartt tarts it up a bit, the plot is straight out of the noir playbook. Rich kids get in trouble, cover up a murder, commit another murder to cover up that one, and continue down the path of self-destruction. Fortunately, Donna Tartt can write the shit out of things and the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts. The characters and the writing set it apart from many similar books. The characters were a well-realized bunch of overly-privileged college brats and their disintegration was very well done. Tartt's writing was several notches beyond what I expected. That being said, I did not love this book hard enough to crush it to death against my manly chest. While the writing was good, it took forever for things to actually happen. I thought it was well done but I'm not precisely sure I actually liked it. Another thing about it that didn't set my world on fire is that I've recently read The Likeness and felt it was a little too soon to read about such a similar group of asshole college kids. All things considered, I guess I was enraptured enough to give this a four. It was good but probably overwritten for what it was.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sam

    I understand why The Secret History is loathed as much as it is loved. If I remove myself a bit from what I just read, I note implausible dialogue and somewhat unbelievable plot elements, horrifically selfish and nasty main characters, overflowing with evil, sure, but mostly with ennui and snobbery and drunkenness and poor-little-rich-people and an air of erudition that's more smokescreen than substance. I can admit to all of that objectively. Subjectively, I feverishly read this in a day and fou I understand why The Secret History is loathed as much as it is loved. If I remove myself a bit from what I just read, I note implausible dialogue and somewhat unbelievable plot elements, horrifically selfish and nasty main characters, overflowing with evil, sure, but mostly with ennui and snobbery and drunkenness and poor-little-rich-people and an air of erudition that's more smokescreen than substance. I can admit to all of that objectively. Subjectively, I feverishly read this in a day and found it literally unputdownable, obscuring my copy under my desk to finish the last 50 pages at work. I can't tell if I suspended my disbelief, or fully believed and drank the Kool-Aid, or some combination of both. All I can say is that this book seized hold of me and refused to let go, lured me and seduced me with Tartt's picturesque, poetic language and description, the sustained tension and ominous mood, and the intricacies of the dark, feral, brutal natures and impulses that lurk underneath beautiful, polished surfaces. I was compelled to savor the details, but also desperate to turn the pages and read more. I was by turns irritated, disgusted, sympathetic, contemplative of the relationships and actions and reactions of Henry, Bunny, Francis, Charles and Camilla, and though I wouldn't say any rank among the more memorable characters I've read, they ended up being as magnetic as Richard the narrator first found them to be, even if in the end I was repelled by them rather than attracted. I could not look away, I was completely captured and in their and Tartt's spell. And I came to satisfied and unsettled by my satisfaction, as though I shouldn't have liked or enjoyed or been so captivated by such a tale. This book is wicked. I can see how wicked can mean evil/unpleasant, or a New England style excellent for this read, and completely understand its polarizing nature. If you haven't read The Secret History yet and are debating about it, I'd recommend trying it if you're a fan of dense literary novels and don't always need a moral paragon to root for. And if you do decide to pick it up, I can only urge to try as hard as you can to suspend your disbelief and get caught in the web... I can't tell if I devoured it or it devoured me, or both, but either way I loved this wicked book. 4.5 stars rounded up to 5 stars, with a future re-read all but guaranteed.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    Shortly after starting this book I Wikipedia'd Donna Tartt, to see if I was dealing with some sort of reverse George Eliot; I had been under the impression that only men got as smugly pretentious as Tartt does. But no, she's a real lady! Ask Bret Easton Ellis, whom she was banging at U. Miss while in a grad writing course that also included Jonathan Lethem and Jill Eisenstadt, so that is a whopping lot of talent in one course, and also Bret Easton Ellis. And you sortof start to wonder, did he sta Shortly after starting this book I Wikipedia'd Donna Tartt, to see if I was dealing with some sort of reverse George Eliot; I had been under the impression that only men got as smugly pretentious as Tartt does. But no, she's a real lady! Ask Bret Easton Ellis, whom she was banging at U. Miss while in a grad writing course that also included Jonathan Lethem and Jill Eisenstadt, so that is a whopping lot of talent in one course, and also Bret Easton Ellis. And you sortof start to wonder, did he start a competition with Donna Tartt about who could write a book featuring the most douchebags? Did they have a douchebag contest going? That would certainly explain American Psycho. It's the literary douchebag crane kick. Anyway, I guess Tartt's a great writer, because she does a terrific job of inhabiting the sort of insufferable, pedantic twit who brags about knowing the locative case in Greek. Oh, me and my clever little friends! We wear cuff links and read Seneca and describe our ex-girlfriends as "A lowbrow, pop-psychology version of Sylvia Plath...all the clinging, all the complaints, all the parking-lot confessions of 'inadequacy' and 'poor self-image,' all those banal sorrows." Which is a shitty thing for a dude to say, y'know? And, again, Donna Tartt isn't even a dude. It settles down, a bit, after the first quarter or so, into a passably competent thriller-type-thing. Murder and such. It's reasonably entertaining. A bit fixated on "hippies," which word appears 23 times and always with negative connotations, so that's weird, but whatever. I guess we all have our boogeymen. It gets - to use my girlfriend's word, which made me want to just hug the shit out of her - super "plotty" towards the end, which was good, but I felt a little let down by the denouement; I was kinda hoping for (view spoiler)[some huge revelation, like everyone was scheming to frame Richard, or Julian was in on it, or some crazy shit like that, so just having Henry shoot himself was, like...not plotty enough for me? (hide spoiler)] I don't know, that's unfair of me to say but it's how I felt. I've heard people say that the neat thing about Secret History is how it shines a realistic light on what it really means to murder a guy. Like, away with the murder mystery cliches, here's how it happens, and the family's funeral, and everything. And she kinda does, and I can appreciate that. But she gets to it by cheating, doesn't she? (view spoiler)[They get into this situation because they've already killed the other guy, whom they hadn't planned to kill. So it's not about how normal people might interact with murder - it's how normal people who already killed a guy during a Bacchanalian orgy might interact with murder, the next time. (hide spoiler)] That's not the same, and it's not actually realistic either. It's only happened to me like two or three times, and I found it way easier to cover up than these guys did. Maybe I just don't have any friends like Bunny.

  19. 3 out of 5

    Barry Pierce

    Due to my utter adoration for The Goldfinch I decided, for reasons unbeknownst to even myself, that I should give The Secret History another go. See I read it maybe four years ago, I want to say, and I wasn’t the biggest fan. And ever since then I’ve had people constantly telling me just how wrong I was about The Secret History. ‘No, no, it’s a modern classic!’ they’d say to me. Or, ‘wow it seems exactly like the type of book you’d adore.’ And they’re right, it is exactly the type of book I’d ad Due to my utter adoration for The Goldfinch I decided, for reasons unbeknownst to even myself, that I should give The Secret History another go. See I read it maybe four years ago, I want to say, and I wasn’t the biggest fan. And ever since then I’ve had people constantly telling me just how wrong I was about The Secret History. ‘No, no, it’s a modern classic!’ they’d say to me. Or, ‘wow it seems exactly like the type of book you’d adore.’ And they’re right, it is exactly the type of book I’d adore. So why can I not bring myself around to loving it? The Secret History is very much a tale of two novels, the split between them coming when Bunny dies. And that isn’t a spoiler, we’re told in the first line that Bunny dies. The first book being the lead up and the second book being the aftermath, with the group just trying to deal with the fact that they actually killed Bunny. Once again, not a spoiler, we’re told on the first page that the group kill Bunny. And if you don’t like even the first pages of novels being spoiled then I suggest you should go outside more often. Side note: it’s rather depressing to read this novel when you’re the same age as the characters. I felt so under-read. But then I remembered they’re all fictional, so fuck them. The first book is actually quite good. It’s all wonderfully tense as the reader is just waiting for the murder to happen. The inverted murder mystery, which oftentimes does not work, works fantastically here and you wouldn’t be talked over if you referred to The Secret History as perhaps the best example of the whydunit genre. Then my biggest problem with the novel happens: the entire second half. What a fucking slog. Like, jesus. Okay Donna just because you’re writing about a funeral doesn’t mean that the novel itself has to become funereal. The whole book just becomes ‘oh aren’t we really sad!’ and ‘ugh it’s tough being murderers!’ And I think, tell me if I’m wrong here, I think Tartt expects us to sympathise with these fucking monsters. I mean, I’ve sympathised with murderers before. I think Aileen Wuornos had a fairly sound motive. The Unabomber made some good points. But this ragtag group of Enid Blyton rejects? Nah. Not a chance. So what do I think of The Secret History the second time around? Much the same as the first time really. I did enjoy some parts more, especially the first half. I’ll be kind, I’ll bump my star rating up one. Congrats Donna, I now think your first novel is perfectly average! I’m happy for us both. Oh, and isn’t Judy Poovey just the greatest name of a fictional character in the history of Western literature? Judy Poovey. I want to get to know you.

  20. 3 out of 5

    destini mia

    “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” I'm still in limbo after finishing this book. Honestly, I don't know what I was expecting from The Secret History. This is one of those books were you finish the last page, put it down, and don't know what to do with yourself. But walking through it all was one thing; walking away, unfortunately, has proved to be quite another, and though o “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.” I'm still in limbo after finishing this book. Honestly, I don't know what I was expecting from The Secret History. This is one of those books were you finish the last page, put it down, and don't know what to do with yourself. But walking through it all was one thing; walking away, unfortunately, has proved to be quite another, and though once I though I had left that ravin forever on an April afternoon long ago, now I'm not so sure. This book consumed my every thought. Which says a lot, seeing as it took me a looooongggg time to finish it. Life was constantly butting in which made it really hard to cut out some time to finish this book. But even with the huge breaks I had, I still wanted to come back to it. I couldn't think about anything else but this book. I was working and thinking about this book, eating and thinking about it, trying to sleep and still thinking about it. Those are the best kind of stories, in my opinion. Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs. So, what the hell is this about? For those who want to go in completely blind, I've tagged the description (this can all be found in the synopsis) (view spoiler)[Just to summarize: Richard moves from California to Vermont to attend Hampden College. Here he meets a group of misfit classic lovers and decides to join their ranks. This group is keeping a few secrets, though, one being a murder they committed during a Bacchian rite (hide spoiler)] . It really isn't about what happens, but how it happens. If that makes any sense. And what I described isn't all that goes on. At all. There is so much more to this book. I knew the gist of the book going in from seeing countless reviews and having friends talk about it, but seeing how everything unravels is what made the book so interesting. Everything builds on itself. The plot, characters . . . it all continues to develop and progress to make a really realistic story despite some supernatural-ish elements. It is long, though. And although I wouldn't say it's slow, Donna Tartt takes her time building the story. If you're used to things developing one after the other with no breaks in between then this is going to be a huge shift in pace. I can see how some would say it's boring, or the characters are flavorless, but it suited what I wanted perfectly. And, wow can Donna Tartt write. Just scroll some of the quotes and you'll definitely see what I'm talking about. “There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty – unless she is wed to something more meaningful – is always superficial.” I don't even know how to describe how wonderfully this book unfolded. The need, desperation, paranoia . . . by the end I was sweating for these guys. “Are you happy here?" I said at last. He considered this for a moment. "Not particularly," he said. "But you're not very happy where you are, either.” The characters in The Secret History were gray, which completely sucks as a description on my part. These are boys that have committed some atrocious acts. And, in a way, their suffering was completely called for. However, you begin to grow attached to them, even though you know they're far from good. Each one of them had faults that eventually led them to their path (hubris, a wonderful word a was reacquainted with while reading this book), but at the very least I was able to understand why they did the things they did. Kinda. “Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Other things – naked, sputtering, indelible in their horror – are too terrible to really grasp ever at all. It is only later, in solitude, in memory that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself – quite to one's surprise – in an entirely different world.” (aaaannnddd the most vague description of the characters and that could have possibly been though up goes to . . . me!). Anyway, before I make an even bigger mess of this review, all I have left to say is, if you're up to it, definitely give this book a shot. It's worth all 559 densely packed pages. “In short: I felt my existence was tainted, in some subtle but essential way.”

  21. 3 out of 5

    Samadrita

    UPDATE 18/02/2014:-Given how often I think of this book and the conspicuous prickle at the back of my neck every time I remember the characters and their cold complicity in one ignoble act after another, I guess it won't be an exaggeration to state that the memories of reading this book are more potent than the experience of actually reading it was. I am not disowning my earlier review but I believe the only way to be fair to Donna Tartt will be to concede another star. Now begins my earlier revi UPDATE 18/02/2014:-Given how often I think of this book and the conspicuous prickle at the back of my neck every time I remember the characters and their cold complicity in one ignoble act after another, I guess it won't be an exaggeration to state that the memories of reading this book are more potent than the experience of actually reading it was. I am not disowning my earlier review but I believe the only way to be fair to Donna Tartt will be to concede another star. Now begins my earlier review. __ "Some things are too terrible to grasp at once. Other things - naked, sputtering, indelible in their horror - are too terrible to really grasp ever at all. It is only later, in solitude, in memory that the realization dawns: when the ashes are cold; when the mourners have departed; when one looks around and finds oneself - quite to one's surprise - in an entirely different world." Oh this vile bunch of snot-nosed college brats, fattened on their parents' money like ticks on blood. Oh their ennui and way of seeking solace in esoteric practices believing them to be the one-way ticket to some metaphysical dimension which will exclude us mere working class mortals with our worldly woes from entering and interfering with whatever unearthly pursuits they busy themselves with. Well guess what kids? We would like to be rid of over-confident, smug, self-important, world-weary bastards like you too. I almost wish I could go on a mad rampage during an eye-roll inducing, unbelievably ridiculous Dionysian rite and kill every single one of you as well. The Secret History is one of the best crime thrillers I have ever read. And this is perhaps because this is not a crime thriller in the conventional sense of the term but literary fiction with moral ambiguity and loss of innocence as central themes. The actual crime(s) is a minor part of the narrative and doesn't eclipse the gradual build up to it or the domino effect it triggers subtly, a devastating chain reaction which results in the collective crumbling of the fabric of 5 young lives. And it is the shadow of this crime, the anticipation of its occurrence and the crushing psychological aftermath of it that lends the narrative its true substance. A discrepancy between the occasional sting of conscience felt by the perpetrators of the crime and their previous heinously selfish justification of the act of murder is what makes this book so utterly engrossing and a veritable unputdownable. Because here we aren't dealing with the solution of a complicated police case but instead getting acquainted with a thread of events which also happen to include a murder from the narrator's point of view who is a reluctant accomplice to the crime. But then why the conflicted 3-star rating? That's because I foresaw every unimaginative turning point or cliched plot device thrown in for the sake of heightening the drama. A third of the way into the narrative, with the grand revelation (which is not very grand to be honest), the unravelling of the rest of the story becomes very guessable. This is not to mention the 'Argentum' fallacy which Manny has pointed out in his review already. Any attentive reader who has a grasp of high school level basic chemistry will realize that 'Aurum' refers to gold, 'Argentum' refers to silver. But these aren't even the major irritants. My biggest problem is with the ludicrous contrivances that are passed off in the name of a premise for the story to build itself on. There's a tinge of unreality to the idea of a super close knit fraternity of 5 snobbish students of classical Greek in a college in 80s Vermont mentored by an even more snobbish and elitist professor, the narrator conveniently finding an entry into this brotherhood sort of grouping out of the blue and becoming a passive spectator to the sequence of events which follow. And lastly the main characters are hardly believable, especially the sole female character who remains a vaguely outlined one at best. The 3 stars are for Tartt's writing which is never showy or deliberate but graceful and quite excellent. I hope The Goldfinch is more impressive and free of proof-reading errors.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    A classical story becomes twisted in modern times How much do I love and admire Donna Tartt? (This is a rhetorical question; I love and admire her very, very, very much.) I read this compulsively, single-mindedly, with the pure joy of reading sparked by the same excitement I remember having when reading The Goldfinch. She may have focussed on dark subject matter, she may have penned a story filled to the brim with selfish, unimpressed, spoiled brats, but GD can she WRITE. She's just so good. She A classical story becomes twisted in modern times How much do I love and admire Donna Tartt? (This is a rhetorical question; I love and admire her very, very, very much.) I read this compulsively, single-mindedly, with the pure joy of reading sparked by the same excitement I remember having when reading The Goldfinch. She may have focussed on dark subject matter, she may have penned a story filled to the brim with selfish, unimpressed, spoiled brats, but GD can she WRITE. She's just so good. She tells a story in a way that makes me irked at any obstacle that keeps me from the next paragraph. Even if that obstacle is the need to work, socialize, eat and/or sleep. Even if that obstacle is my children (I said it). Death is the mother of beauty. And what is beauty? Terror. The Secret History is a story told by Richard, a character that reminded me a little of Nick Carraway of The Great Gatsby - the observer, the outsider who belongs-but-doesn't, who is complicit-but-not. Moved away from his unhappy life in California, he finds his true home among five insufferable classics students in an exclusive Greek program. These students are Henry, Francis, Bunny, and the twins, Charles and Camilla. --Can I just stop here to say, how brilliant is it that Tartt named them Charles and Camilla?? I mean, really. And not once, in all the many pages, did anyone make reference to the royal couple. This one is far more interesting, anyway.-- We learn in the first chapter that one of the group, the obnoxious mooch Bunny, is murdered by his friends. The rest of the book is the unfolding of how this came about. The story is captivating, filled with mystery and tension. Though the book has a thoroughly modern feel, the ghosts of Dionysus and Bacchus, and other elements of Greek mythology and tragedy taint each page. It ain't pretty. One likes to think there's something in it, that old platitude amor vincit omnia. But if I've learned one thing in my short sad life, it is that that particular platitude is a lie. Love doesn't conquer everything. And whoever thinks it does is a fool. The main criticism I've read of this book is that the characters are not likeable. This is true - no one here is sweet and cuddly. There's no refuge to be found, no soft place to land. But this didn't detract in any way from my enjoyment. The characters may not be people I would choose to go on a hike in the woods with, for example, but they are fascinating. Bunny, with his wheedling, nasally voice, was particularly interesting to me, yet he was one of the most repulsive. These characters drive this compelling and magnificent debut. Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for the ones that I did not.

  23. 3 out of 5

    mathilde maire

    i think the fact that i've just read 600 pages in a day is indication enough that this book is everything to me

  24. 3 out of 5

    Helene Jeppesen

    This is such an amazing book that combines crime and Greek language and mythology with Donna Tartt's beautiful writing style. It is a story about guilt, admiration and repercussions and it blew me away. I also gave "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt 5 stars, but these 5 stars are a little bit different. The story in itself was very interesting, but it did have its dull moments. BUT the mood that Donna Tartt succeeds in creating and the relationship we get with the 5 characters and their lives at uni This is such an amazing book that combines crime and Greek language and mythology with Donna Tartt's beautiful writing style. It is a story about guilt, admiration and repercussions and it blew me away. I also gave "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt 5 stars, but these 5 stars are a little bit different. The story in itself was very interesting, but it did have its dull moments. BUT the mood that Donna Tartt succeeds in creating and the relationship we get with the 5 characters and their lives at university is unique! It touched me and gave me a hard time putting down this book. Like so many other stories by Donna Tartt, this is a story that makes you think for days and weeks onwards :)

  25. 3 out of 5

    ☙ percy ❧

    ok real talk i didn't know what tf Classics was until i read this and then i thought "hey this is canny interesting" so i signed up for a classics summer school at oxford and it turned out half the people there also ended up there bc of this mcfucking book and then the professors were all like "this is a better turn out than usual" and we were all just sitting there trying to pretend that we didn't end up there because of a book about a Classics Murder Club and tl;dr this is the impact this book ok real talk i didn't know what tf Classics was until i read this and then i thought "hey this is canny interesting" so i signed up for a classics summer school at oxford and it turned out half the people there also ended up there bc of this mcfucking book and then the professors were all like "this is a better turn out than usual" and we were all just sitting there trying to pretend that we didn't end up there because of a book about a Classics Murder Club and tl;dr this is the impact this book has had also now i'm studying classics at uni.

  26. 3 out of 5

    Oriana

    You guys, I am really scared that The Goldfinch was so fucking good that it has ruined me for all other books. Everything I've read since has just felt like stupid bullshit (well, with the exception of You Deserve Nothing , which did manage to rule). Anyway, using the "hair of the dog" theory, I'm turning back to this for a re-read. Maybe once I come out the other side I'll be recalibrated and ready for normal reading life again? *** Great good gracious. I am honestly a bit tongue-tied, delirious You guys, I am really scared that The Goldfinch was so fucking good that it has ruined me for all other books. Everything I've read since has just felt like stupid bullshit (well, with the exception of You Deserve Nothing , which did manage to rule). Anyway, using the "hair of the dog" theory, I'm turning back to this for a re-read. Maybe once I come out the other side I'll be recalibrated and ready for normal reading life again? *** Great good gracious. I am honestly a bit tongue-tied, delirious with delight and awe for Donna Tartt and her ridiculous brilliance. This, this is why I read. To have a book seize me firmly by the lapels, or the nape of the neck, or the roots of my goddamn hair, and fling me along ecstatically, plunged deep in its mysteries, hanging on its every slip of phrase and point of plot and shudderingly lush descriptive passage. Although of course I've read this before, I remembered it with nothing more than a vague fondness. I'd guess I probably read it in 2002 or 2003, and although I am a widely acknowledged literary snob now, I wonder if I was actually spoiled from reading better books then, back when my days revolved around work at a bookstore, when there were great golden stretches of time for me to languish over Gravity's Rainbow and Hopscotch and Underworld, before life sped up and filled with real jobs and too much internet-ing and the realities of credit card debt and walking the dogs and proofreading romance novels. What I mean is: How did I not recall this book as the harrowingly amazing accomplishment that it is? Honestly I don't think I even remembered that the book didn't end after Bunny died (hush up with your cries of spoilery; Bunny's death is revealed in the book's very first sentence). I didn't remember a thing about the magical trill of her gorgeous prose, about the great full depth of her characters, who feel more real to me at this moment than many of my friends. I forgot the sheer number of literary allusions she tosses off with such casual aplomb, the way she weaves in four different languages, the way her dialogue burbles, like a perfect stream. I forgot (or may not have quite noticed) how much she hates hippies, how much she loves coke, how she idolizes while pitying the idle rich and those who rigorously devote themselves to worshipping at the altar of intellect. Anyway. I do feel better now, somehow, about moving on back to rest of the universe of non-Tartt literature. It's been wonderful to spend these weeks languishing in her worlds, and to know that they're there any time I should need to slip back into them, to restore my faith in the written word and its power.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Michael Finocchiaro

    Perhaps I did Donna Tartt a disservice by reading her books in reverse order because I found this first book, The Secret History, inferior to both The Little Friend and The Goldfinch. That being said, it started out great. I love her analogies full of irony, such as: "Together, they were like one of those superhero alliances in the comic books, invincible, an unconquerable federation of boredom and confusion." (p. 43) The book makes a mike drop right from the start, announcing a murder and is rela Perhaps I did Donna Tartt a disservice by reading her books in reverse order because I found this first book, The Secret History, inferior to both The Little Friend and The Goldfinch. That being said, it started out great. I love her analogies full of irony, such as: "Together, they were like one of those superhero alliances in the comic books, invincible, an unconquerable federation of boredom and confusion." (p. 43) The book makes a mike drop right from the start, announcing a murder and is relatively obvious as to who will be the victim: "At first I though they were playing to an empty room, but then I noticed the top of a shaggy blond head, lolling against the back of the lone couch that faces the set. I walked over and sat down. 'Bunny,' I said." (p. 131). There are actually a few spoilers in this sentence, but putting those aside, we have our protagonist who speaks in the first person as in a journal or memoir, confronting out anti-hero "Bunny." Neither of these two characters is presented in a very positive light, they are friends and enemies and I had a hard time caring which way or the other they leaned. Another major character is the flower-obsessed Henry: "He poked around unconcernedly in the silver, played a disinterested bar of 'Träumerei' on the piano with one hand; opened the door the grandfather clock and had a look at the work; had a long chat with the owner's niece, who had just come down from the big house ,about when was the best time to put out tulip bulbs." (p. 149). This self-control and wide-ranging but superficial pretentiousness becomes his undoing as the time moves inexorably forward. (see also page 347 for a premonition of his end). The first 150-200 pages are pretty engaging, but I felt that after that initial rush, things bogged down a bit between parties and drunken discussions leading up to the murder which occurs at the middle of the book, and the aftermath which fills the rest. Perhaps the most underdeveloped character could have been a more interesting one - Judy Poovey, Richard the protagonists dorm neighbor. I felt over all that the characters lacked a little depth and there were none that I really latched on to. I did like the touch of Dostoyevski on page 373 and the other scattered literary references, but what I most enjoy about her writing - even in this her possibly weakest book - is her sense of sounds and onomatopoeia: cars whooshing, Francis grumbling, Henry snoring, Bunny wretching... - as well as the dreams one of which ends the book. Overall, it is an interesting read, but not nearly as good as my favorite, The Goldfinch. The idea of a Greek tragedy in a Greek class was original, but perhaps a bit overwrought and the characters lacked empathy.

  28. 4 out of 5

    mark monday

    The Secret History is about as convincing as Less Than Zero. how has this book stayed so popular? well, Less Than Zero also remains popular. i'll take lev grossman's The Magicians over both of them, and that one is aggravating too. (1) i'm so tired of people who are so tired of everything! (1b) ennui is so very boring, almost as boring as (2) pretentious know-it-alls. this book manages to combine all three. i learned nothing except a new way to be irritated. oh, donna tartt... as if!

  29. 3 out of 5

    Madeline

    The best word I can think of to describe this book is mesmerizing. You know from the very first page that the narrator and his friends will kill someone during the course of the story - you even know who the victim is and how he dies. But that didn't stop me from reading this book as fast as I could, trying to absorb every word. A truly gifted author can create the most unappealing character possible and still draw the audience to his/her side. Donna Tartt does exactly this with her main charact The best word I can think of to describe this book is mesmerizing. You know from the very first page that the narrator and his friends will kill someone during the course of the story - you even know who the victim is and how he dies. But that didn't stop me from reading this book as fast as I could, trying to absorb every word. A truly gifted author can create the most unappealing character possible and still draw the audience to his/her side. Donna Tartt does exactly this with her main character, Richard, who is far from a good person. He lies frequently and well, and over the course of his narration will often mention being completely drunk or doing lines of cocaine in a matter-of-fact tone, with absolutely no shame. His five friends, all Greek scholars at an elite private college, are just like him. The six main characters of this story are not good people, and that does not bother them. That's probably what makes them, and their story, so incredibly fascinating. Here's one of my favorite quotes from the book, and it sort of sums up the entire point of the story: "The Greeks were different. They had a passion for order and symmetry, much like the Romans, but they knew how foolish it was to deny the unseen world, the old gods. Emotion, darkness, barbarism...Do you remember what we were speaking of earlier, how bloody, terrible things are sometimes the most beautiful? It's a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our moral selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown back, throat to the stars, 'more like deer than human being.' To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are poweful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls that we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn."

  30. 4 out of 5

    Manny

    I remember that I liked it when I read it. But I don't recall that much of the book, and in general my system is that the less I remember, the more I mark it down. Of course, that could say more about me than about the book. I do recall being just a little skeptical about how good the author's knowledge of classics was. It's not like I know anything about the subject - I did a couple of years of Latin at school, which I hated, and I only just passed my exams. But there were a couple of funny mome I remember that I liked it when I read it. But I don't recall that much of the book, and in general my system is that the less I remember, the more I mark it down. Of course, that could say more about me than about the book. I do recall being just a little skeptical about how good the author's knowledge of classics was. It's not like I know anything about the subject - I did a couple of years of Latin at school, which I hated, and I only just passed my exams. But there were a couple of funny moments. Like, I remember a bit where the word "Argentine" came up, and the narrator says that the "Argent" piece sounds golden to her. Um... "argent" derives from Latin argentum, which (I just looked it up) derives from the Greek 'Αργυρος, translated as silver or white metal. Even I knew the Latin derivation. So the atmosphere didn't feel quite authentic. ____________________________________ I have been feeling a little guilty about nickpicking this book, which, I readily agree, is sometimes quite beautiful and moving. But here's my attempt at a justification. If you're going to write about some form of obsession, it really helps to have experienced that obsession yourself. Most people have been in love at some time, so descriptions of being in love often ring true. At the other end of the spectrum, very few authors are serial killers, and your average fictional serial killer tends to come across as rather silly. In the middle, you have unusual forms of obsession, which can make good books. But the ones I like most are definitely written by people who've known them first-hand. Nabokov was crazy about chess, and Luzhin's Defense is, at least in my opinion, the only good novel ever written about chess obsession. David Foster Wallace was extremely serious about junior tennis, which is one of the things that make the E.T.A. part of Infinite Jest so compelling. And I find it hard to believe that someone who wasn't himself a literary theorist could have written Small World. If you're obsessed with something, you immerse yourself in it to such a degree that even tiny details become terribly important. That's why it felt so odd when Donna Tartt got a few things wrong in this book, which is supposed to be about people who are obsessed with classical culture. It shattered the illusion for me, and I was annoyed with her for doing that. But if you aren't as obsessive as I am, there's maybe no reason why it should worry you.

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