Saturday, February 20, 2016

Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History follows the story of Richard Papen, a college student who is accepted through a scholarship to a small but prestigious Vermont college. Richard is one of the poorest students in the school, and constantly lies to cover up this fact. He tries to continue his study of ancient Greek only to be told that the program is incredibly exclusive and the teacher himself has to allow you into the program. Richard pleads with Julian (the Greek professor) and is turned away at first, but is allowed in when a few of the other students are studying together and Richard helps them on a project. The Greek program requires not just attendance of Greek class, but requires a completely new schedule, all with classes taught by Julian himself. There are only 5 others in the program: Henry, Bunny, Francis, Camilla, and Charles. Camilla and Charles are twins, Francis is gay, Henry is a reclusive genius and Bunny is a deliberately annoying tag along. The group is extremely tight knit and do everything together, soon asking Richard to join them on weekends at Francis' country house. The group is notably odd, wearing Victorian style cloaks and eye glasses among other things (Henry doesn't like using electric light for example). After Richard has been with the group for about 6 months, Henry decides to let him in on the dangerous secret he and the others share. Bunny was not technically included in the secret, but he found out later and holds it over the heads of the other 4 by constantly making comments and jokes that he is going to turn them into the police. The story comes to a head when the group decides that something must be done about Bunny, and it only increases their danger with how far they are willing to go to cover up what they've done.

I absolutely loved this book. This was my first experience with Donna Tartt and I was not disappointed. The book is very smartly written, keeping with the feel of being surrounded by "old money" college students and watching the high brow lives they lead. The group of Greek students are extremely odd and obsessed with all things Ancient Greece which shows up in their everyday language, hobbies, and lifestyle choices. This might be what drew me into the story at first since I hung out with a similar such nerdy crowd (minus the trust funds). This story has such an amazing twist and the entire premise behind the actual secret is just so ... nerdy and smart. It's so ridiculous that it is somehow believable - like this could have easily happened in real life. The characters are written and described in such a multi faceted way that they do feel like real people. I don't want to spoil the surprise of what they did, but seriously I was in awe of just the imagination that thought up such a thing as soon as I read it. The book has a slightly creepy overall feeling, and really keeps the reader engaged the whole time. Since the book is set in the 1980s, I had a very Donnie Darko vibe from the beginning and I would still describe it that way now that I've finished it. Due to the slightly creepy and nerdy air of the entire story, this book is not for everyone. If you don't mind some odd occurrences and language and if you are able to keep up with the constant references to Plato and Aristotle, you will enjoy this book as much as I did. This is the first time in a long time that I was truly engrossed in the world of a book and did not want the story to end. I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.


  1. I absolutely adored this book!! I was the same and felt I didn't want it to end too.

    1. Wasn't it great?! I've been on the search for another book to fill the void it left ever since. There are few books that seem to start a new desire in me to find more of the same, and this is one of them (another is Night Circus - I need more books like that in my life too). I'm glad I'm not alone in my mild obsession, lol.

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