Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Page Count: 559
Publication Date: 2004
Category/Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Family, Adult Fiction, Myster, Thriller, Contemporary
Good Reads Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.11)
My Rating: ★★★★☆ (4.0)
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.
“beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. quite the contrary. genuine beauty is always quite alarming.”
The Secret History is alarmingly beautiful, just as all the best greek tragedies usually are. It is full of sorrow and struggle, with pure loyalty and divine inspiration. Everything about it is hypnotic, elegant and tragic.
This book reads like a romantic dream of doomed youth that cared nothing for sense or self-preservation and “sailed through the world guided only by the dim lights of impulse and habit”. The dynamics between the characters are beyond dysfunctional, caught in a twisted spiral of ambition and self-importance and their abominable fulfillment.
“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.”
The Secret History is then told in two parts, one being the events that took place leading up to the death of their friend and classmate, and then one part being all the events that take place after he is murdered. There are no spoilers here, you are pretty much told about it in the prologue and you can see it coming like a comet for much of the book. The effect of this, however, creates unbearable tension and anticipation.
Richard is at the forefront of the novel and is our unreliable narrator. But Tartt does so much more than just guide you through the events or Richard’s memories and perception. Somehow you become the characters, breathing as one with them. One minute you see the story as Richard tells it, his remembrances of standing at the border of passion and desperation and then everything suddenly flips and the whole view changes. You are able to grasp a glimpse the lie and the denial.
All the characters are self-centered, elitist or sociopathic. They are all morally grey to just generally horrible people, but the magic of the novel is that you completely ignore it and somehow become deeply sympathetic to the characters because of the hypnotic spell that Tartt weaves.
It truly embodies how we are all just trying to fit in and find family, at what lengths we will go to with others and ourselves, and by whatever unhealthy means available and/or possible to do so. There is so much to ponder about birth and death and how important the time between those two points truly is.
The Secret History is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It is a modern Greek Tragedy that reads like a 19th century novel. Beauty, morality and mortality.
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 speed read, it is one to linger over and savor.
This book is so very heavy in general and has multiple reasons to approach it cautiously. 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.