The Secret History – Donna Tartt

The Secret History. I had heard so much about it, rave reviews, exclamations that I should read it. Yet I was still unprepared for this book. Upon finishing it I am still trying to get my head around it, comprehend everything that went on in those six hundred plus pages. This is probably the most content heavy book I have read this year. Complex and dark, yet utterly enchanting. The Secret History revolves around six students studying under an eccentric teacher who pushes the boundaries of not only their education but their ethics and morality. Finding themselves backed into a corner they try to fight their way out while keeping their heads above water. The ramifications are vast and slowly fracture their once routine lives.


Having only just finished the pages barely half an hour ago I am already ready to pick it up and read it again. As I mentioned there is so much content in the book, both physically (the book is 629 pages long) and mentally, with much discussion of Ancient Greek mythology and philosophical figures and their ideas. There is much to comprehend and I feel that this is a book that will benefit from several rereads over time, slowly picking up on different nuances each time. The words are incredibly rich and layered and I’m not completely convinced I understood everything that the author intended. In fact I had trouble putting my thoughts together coherently post finishing this book. My brain felt foggy and slow, probably in contrast to the complex  ideas and vivid language used by Tartt throughout the book. Anything I could say would only pale in comparison to her firm grasp  on descriptive and alluring language.


The characters are the glue that first and foremost hold the novel together. We are first introduced to the five students of Julian’s by the narrator, who later becomes one of them. Each of the five are mysterious and slightly ethereal. The reader is constantly learning and changing their opinions of these characters as events of the story take their toll. They remain elusive with their actions surprising you right up to the final pages. You can never quite predict where they are going or what they will do and this is part spurs the pace of the novel. Funnily enough I had no idea of the narrators name until a good way into the book and can’t seem to remember reading a physical description either. Richard was an interesting character to have as the narrator. Forever the outsider looking in, his insights are interesting and the way he describes his fellow classmates you can’t help but love them with the same intensity he does, despite their obvious flaws.


From the outset we are told of the major plot event and spend the first half of the book building up to that climax. The reader doesn’t immediately understand why and part of the suspense is understanding how their paths led to this defining moment. This moment that eventually undos them all. The second half of the book is the aftermath and you watch the enormity of the actions slowly chip away at the characters. Each one slowly unhinges in their own way at their own pace. Leading up to a second climax around the conclusion of the book. This one I didn’t see coming and I finished the book in a daze the† lasted hours.


This is a truly unique book that I would highly recommend. Just go in prepared for a challenging read but don’t worry, it is worth every one of those 629 pages. I am only left with a desire for more of Tartt’s work and look forward to moving on to the Goldfinch, which I already own. I give the Secret History five Greek myths for all the student’s study.


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