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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. 5 out of 5

    chai ♡

    [flings myself onto a chaise lounge and wails dramatically] The fact that I’m not a part of an elitist circle of young scholars who quote Classics over dirty Martinis and toast to living forever and who might also be compelled to commit murder because they got too consumed by their Greek homework is the real tragedy here. What’s this book about? Murder always makes an auspicious beginning for any good story. Bunny is dead, and his friends’ mercenary relief at having him gone didn’t take [flings myself onto a chaise lounge and wails dramatically] The fact that I’m not a part of an elitist circle of young scholars who quote Classics over dirty Martinis and toast to living forever and who might also be compelled to commit murder because they got too consumed by their Greek homework is the real tragedy here. What’s this book about? Murder always makes an auspicious beginning for any good story. Bunny is dead, and his friends’ mercenary relief at having him gone didn’t take long before it turned sour. In The Secret History, the venom of remembrance falls to Richard Papen, and the bulk of the book concerns itself with the months leading up to that point. “This is the story I will ever be able to tell,” says Richard, and with that, the still depths of memory come shivering back to life. In the days after Richard Papen sets foot at Hampden College, he is aimless, as unsteady as a poorly made bow, suffering a deep pang of loneliness and dejection. But then all of a sudden, at the center of it all, in a pocket of stillness within the simmering nest of his life, was them. A clique of rich and sophisticated classic majors who drift about with their heads full of myths, always at least half-lost in some ancient story, and who worship at the shrine of their highly eccentric professor, Julian Morrow. The closeness between them was palpable, and something about that struck Richard with a deep allure. They weren’t exactly unfriendly with the rest of the world; they were just friendlier with each other, and Richard spared no efforts in impressing on them that he could fit in as well. To that end, Richard changed everything, even the fabric of himself—adorning, embroidering, essentially reinventing the less glamorous aspects of his life. He was like a ghost interposing himself between lovers to feel what it was like to be alive, and that so much death would dog his heels soon afterwards is a brutal irony. As in any group, there is tension, of course, but it never grew very heated between them. Neither did it ever quite abate. It was the tension of minds meeting, of differing interests, not the tension of a world about to become terribly complicated, ending in tragedy, six souls forfeit. A world where murder and lies and treachery were nothing but a currency they used to pay for the rest of their lives. Let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn. Everything about The Secret History is as crisp and elegant as freshly pressed silk. So skillfully and engagingly that I was quite disarmed, and with writing surfeited with such beautiful delicacy I sometimes had to stop and stare, Tartt led me deftly from page to page, from chapter to chapter, through a messy, mad tumult of memories, like reflections in boiling water. The Secret History’s flow is hypnotic, and Tartt sweeps the reader, with vivid and tender enthrallment, into a reverie about beauty and mortality and godhood, the ghosts of the books and writers she admires seeming to slip into the cracks between the lines, and, like many operas, the climax is tragic but beautiful. It takes a great amount of authority to write like this, and Tartt has authority in spades. Even when the plot lags, she finds a way to enliven the telling of her story: this is the kind of novel that deserves to be drawn out and savored, however much tempting binge-reading it may be. The Secret History is 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 will surpass your wildest definitions of dysfunctional. They were darlings and vipers—caught in a twisted pantomime of ambition and self-importance and their abominable fulfillment. But they had their own gravity, and were the center of Richard’s small, surreal galaxy. Richard Papen chronicles his own tale, beginning with Bunny’s murder and his involvement in it—the admission so simple, so unornamented, unmarred by grief or regret, as if it were just a dry fact that could be taken out and studied without emotion. From then, his mind starts picking at his memories, like fingers at a knot, with the sort of cultivated assuredness you should know better than to follow into the dark. This is how it happens: one minute you see the story as Richard tells it, his remembrances thrumming at the border of passion and desperation, but with a mental step to the left, and with the right perspective, everything suddenly flips, everything finds a new interpretation and, in an instant, the whole view changes. Suddenly, you can glimpse the lie, shimmering and perfect. You realize that there are too many images reflected in fragmentary style on the surface of it that don’t really belong there. It’s the things just beneath his words, as though Richard wrote them down, erased them, and scribbled over them. Reading the latter half of The Secret History, I felt left out of the tale, sensed it slipping from my hold and altering in ways I hadn’t anticipated, then—at last—realization dawns: Richard is many things, foremost among them is that he’s a damn good unreliable narrator, and that’s one of the biggest triumphs of this novel. I’d been slow to grasp it, but when I seized it, that thread of truth, it became a sort of struggle to reconcile what I thought I knew with what I’m seeing unravel before me. In The Secret History, a curtain is drawn back in Richard Papen’s inner theater and his storytelling mind gets to work: in the mists of his memories Camilla Macaulay was quiet and had a shadow’s talent for passing unremarked—she was a brittle, sharp-edged fragment by herself, always mentioned alongside her twin brother, Charles—while Henry Winter drew all eyes like a flare. For Richard, Henry had been a sunray, illuminating every facet of his world. Henry was beautiful, impassive, untouched by emotion or pain. There was always something unfathomable about him, something as inscrutable as the turning of his thoughts. He was the brilliant autodidact and linguistic genius who seemed to suffer people’s ignorance of ancient Greek as though it were a physical blow and whom Richard wanted to impress with a compound interest of human desperation (which, in many senses, later becomes his undoing). Julien Morrow wasn’t seen as anything but relentlessly benign. Francis Abernathy was only a rich boy who assumed the world was his oyster because he’d gone to the right schools and mixed with the right people and whose sexuality Richard—for reasons he cannot explain to himself, but which are pretty clear for discernable readers—was fixated upon. And, of course, Bunny who was a terrible person with a terrible affinity for reaching inside one’s innermost self and depositing, with wicked relish, gifts of self-loathing and insecurity, and whose murder Richard might have borne with more fortitude if Bunny hadn’t been so horrible. All this knowledge, however, soon wavers and falters, growing feebler and harder to maintain, and that’s when Richard—as well as the reader—begins caroming upward into a state of heightened lucidity: Richard has been most naïve in those days. He trusted too easily and could not see into the cracks of the world, and his imagination has fashioned the quintet into something they were not, or at least, they were more than his depthless perception of them. However sweet her nature seems, Camilla is not soft; her edges are gleaming and sharp, and in that regard—Richard realizes later—she is a lot more like Henry. They both know how to reach into one’s soul and play their emotions like a harp: Camilla strung her admirers along like fish on a line, and I often marveled how close she could slice the difference between hate and love. Henry sowed enough seeds to ensure Richard would know to follow; he’d tested his loyalty, prowling the edges of his trust, looking for a crack—but it all held. It’s almost unnerving—the way every argument turned out meant whoever did Henry’s bidding got a little more of Henry’s favor, and whoever didn’t lost it completely, the way Bunny had become a single rope twisted from the whole, hanging before their minds’ eye—separate and other—because Bunny committed the unpardonable sin of disobedience. There’s also more to Francis and Charles than meets the eyes. Francis’ character was a quiet, still pool that held everything safe in its depths, but, occasionally, the extravagant façade would betray his plunging insecurity and frailty which ring like a bell in his frequent “are you mad at me?” and the way his hands often hang numbly, unmoving, by his sides instead of acting. Julian Morrow, whose words they all took as gospel, is a liar and his sinister figure permeates the whole of this tragedy. As for Bunny—and there is really no way to beautify the following—he’s an asshole. There was a hole inside him that needed to be filled with other people’s misery. But he hasn’t always been an asshole, and Richard has to dig deep to unearth that memory where he kept it buried under his self-serving desire to legitimize their crime and taper his own guilt, to realize that no currency would ever make him and Bunny even. But strangely, it’s Charles’ transformation—more jarring than a body turning itself inside out—that snags at me the most: how this boy, who had no sins anyone knew of or could guess at and whom Richard once describes as “a kind and slightly ethereal soul”, could have the capacity to become so horrible, everything that was kind in him suddenly driven out. But for all Charles’ faults, I would argue that out of the five of them, he is the one who felt the rawness of their crime most keenly, or at least more outwardly—and the fallout is an utter heartbreaker. I could be wrong. I could be so spectacularly wrong about everything, but that’s just it: one of the things I most relish about this book is how you become the characters, breathing life into them, creating them from the faintest scrapings of information that you’ve been given—the harder you think, the more you see, and it just keeps getting more productive. In this sense, and many others, The Secret History also relentlessly ponders the power of beauty to dazzle, to cast a ghostly light over a world that is deep-down stripped of color, and, in particular, to make those people who possess it seem smarter than they may be. We are always drawn to the lure of beauty, no matter the cost, and Richard Papen—with his "morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs"—was no exception. The quintet’s willful dedication to the ideals of art and beauty—which will eventually steer their fates towards calamity—held its own fascination, and a part of Richard wanted to do whatever they asked him to do. And it was a loud part. Back then, it seemed like a part worth listening to. “Beauty is terror,” writes Tartt, perhaps portending how the beauty that once shone like a flame, drawing Richard’s eye against his will would in time, like acid, eat away at the flesh of their souls. That it would, one day, all turn into ashes and ruin. ☆ ko-fi ★ blog ☆ twitter ★ tumblr ☆

  2. 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.

  3. 4 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.

  4. 4 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 thi “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! ❤

  5. 4 out of 5

    _ngallagher

    No shade on this one, just really wasn’t my thing. thanks to everyone who tuned in to the live show. 🧡

  6. 4 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.

  7. 5 out of 5

    jessica

    ‘beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. quite the contrary. genuine beauty is always quite alarming.’ and oh, how alarmingly beautiful this story is, as all the best greek tragedies tend to be; full of sorrow and struggle, but often accompanied by pure loyalty and divine inspiration. gosh. i just… i cant even right now. on the surface, this book is great. but donna tartt is an absolute goddess of writing for the sheer depth of this book. its a work of absolute brilliance. i was never a classic ‘beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. quite the contrary. genuine beauty is always quite alarming.’ and oh, how alarmingly beautiful this story is, as all the best greek tragedies tend to be; full of sorrow and struggle, but often accompanied by pure loyalty and divine inspiration. gosh. i just… i cant even right now. on the surface, this book is great. but donna tartt is an absolute goddess of writing for the sheer depth of this book. its a work of absolute brilliance. i was never a classics student but, as someone who has taken an interest in the subject over the years, i cant even express my geeky joy for how multifaceted and layered this story is. by exemplifying fatal flaws, dissecting the apollonian vs. dionysian philosophical theory, personalising the mask of death, understanding the action and stagnation of life, and realising the lifelong quest for the picturesque, this story is a modern greek tragedy and a classic in its own right. wow. i will be thinking about this book for quite some time. ↠ 4.5 stars

  8. 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.

  9. 5 out of 5

    emma

    read my recollections of my time in the classics department at a college in New England full review of this book here: https://emmareadstoomuch.wordpress.co... ----------- Here is the problem with reviewing every book I read: Sometimes I throw around terms before I really need them, and then once I read THE book, The Story that requires and deserves that descriptor, I have nothing to give it. Right now I have this problem. Because I have used the word “immersive” before, and immediately upon my com read my recollections of my time in the classics department at a college in New England full review of this book here: https://emmareadstoomuch.wordpress.co... ----------- Here is the problem with reviewing every book I read: Sometimes I throw around terms before I really need them, and then once I read THE book, The Story that requires and deserves that descriptor, I have nothing to give it. Right now I have this problem. Because I have used the word “immersive” before, and immediately upon my completion of this book it became clear that I should have saved it for right now. I felt like I lived inside these pages. I felt like I began to think in the beautiful and sharp prose that fills them. I felt like I knew the characters, ate decadent lunches and walked the snowy campus and whispered with them. I felt an aching emptiness, a genuine longing, when I read the final words. I miss living here. This was very, very slow - to the point that about halfway through I said (inexplicably, aloud), “I don’t know what they’ll even do for the rest of the book” - and yet I was gripped by it. It’s genuinely masterful. I love Richard and I LOVE Camilla and I love Francis and I, fine, okay, at least like Charles and Henry and even Bunny and Julian. And I miss them all. This is an incredible work, but maybe the most incredible thing is how the reader is Richard. I, too, miss my bygone days at my prestigious New England college with my whip-smart group of eccentric friends, and, like him, I am too quickly forced to realize the fallacy of such a feeling. After all, it was all a fiction. Bottom line: I’m raising this to a five star rating. ------------ you'll have to excuse me, i'd love to actually write something here but my brain is broken and i am incapable of thought. also seems absurd to try to use words when donna tartt took all the good ones. review to come / 4.5 stars ------------ me: *is slightly behind on my reading challenge* also me: *starts a 600-page book*

  10. 5 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.

  11. 4 out of 5

    chan ☆

    lol why is this on my tbr and why yall keep liking it

  12. 5 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 eac 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.

  13. 4 out of 5

    ✨ A ✨

    I don't know about you, but what I strive for is finding my next great read. They're not always perfect. Sometimes they have messed up shit in them, BUT they leave me dumbfounded and in awe. Days after I find myself doing something completely mundane and unable to stop thinking about the story and the characters. That's what The Secret History did to me. 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 ab I don't know about you, but what I strive for is finding my next great read. They're not always perfect. Sometimes they have messed up shit in them, BUT they leave me dumbfounded and in awe. Days after I find myself doing something completely mundane and unable to stop thinking about the story and the characters. That's what The Secret History did to me. 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. The Secret History follows Richard Papen as he transfers from California to Hampden College in New England. He joins a small elite group who study Greek and are obsessed with the classics—taught by an eccentric and mysterious professor who teaches them a different way of thinking. “Everything was going beautifully, on the brink of taking wing, and I had a feeling that I'd never had, that reality itself was transforming around us in some beautiful and dangerous fashion, that we were being driven by a force we didn't understand, towards an end I did not know.” Richard recounts the events that lead up to the murder of one of his classmates and all that happens after. Never, never once in any immediate sense, did it occur to me that any of this was anything but a game. An air of unreality suffused even the most workaday details, as if we were plotting not the death of a friend but the itinerary of a fabulous trip that I, for one, never quite believed we'd ever really take. My thoughts: When I saw that my copy was over 600 pages (super thin and flimsy might I add, I almost tore them by mistake like a dozen times) I was a tiny bit daunted. The only genre in which I'm used to reading such big books is fantasy. But I quickly fell in love with the writing which was both beautiful and lyrical and was, despite my initial assumptions, actually quite accessible. This book was told in the first person but in past tense. It reminded me a lot of The Great Gatsby and the way that book was narrated. The plot was slow, full of rich detail and atmospheric. A lot of parts (especially in the beginning now that I think on it) were not relevant or necessary to the story but I think I loved it more because of the attention to detail and the way Richard talks about comepletey normal, every day things he did. The setting and characters were so well fleshed out, it allowed me to connect to the story despite how problematic the characters were. In a certain sense, this was why I felt so close to the others in the Greek class. They, too, knew this beautiful and harrowing landscape, centuries dead; they'd had the same experience of looking up from their books with fifth-century eyes and finding the world disconcertingly sluggish and alien, as if it were not their home. I'm not going to lie— all the characters were terrible people. But I couldn't help sympathising with them at times. From the first page we are told about the murder this group of friends commit. This is not a happy story, it is a story about murder and the consequences that they have to face, a stain on their souls they have to bear. But while I have never considered myself a very good person, neither can I bring myself to believe that I am a spectacularly bad one. Perhaps it's simply impossible to think of oneself in such a way, our Texan friend being a case in point. 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. There were times I felt sad and empathised with them and other times I felt utterly disgusted. Donna Tartt does not shy away from harsh truths. This book is filled with jaw dropping plot twists and situations that had me crying, and gasping out loud. I read this book in autumn, sometimes under a tree with a gentle breeze in the fall sunlight and sometimes snuggled in bed with copious cups of coffee to keep me reading through the night. I 10/10 recommend reading it this way. It is not a book for devouring in one sitting, but rather a book slowly savoured. I know this review is probably inadequate and does not fully capture my thoughts, but it is the best I can do right now. 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. Buddy read with my fav Türkan ✨ __ Initial reaction: And as I'm sitting on my wingbacked chair, I take a sip of my (now cold) black coffee. I turn the last page. I am a tumult of emotions. To name a few: shock, sadness, and awe. ...Okay I lie. I don't drink black coffee. What the hell is that devil juice Wow. That was really good. I mean, there was some really messed up shit in this book but it was still so brilliantly written and addictive. I don't know how I'm going to review this!

  14. 5 out of 5

    K. Elizabeth

    2019 The fact that I STILL think about this book every other week really makes me to want to label this as my #1 favorite book. It's literally the best thing I have read up until this point. What a mind-blowing novel. ________________________________________ Re-read in 2018 Still flipping amazing. I. Love. This. Book. ________________________________________ 5/5 Stars! EDIT: I read this about two months ago, but I'm still thinking about it! Therefore, I bumped it up half a star, and changed my overall 2019 The fact that I STILL think about this book every other week really makes me to want to label this as my #1 favorite book. It's literally the best thing I have read up until this point. What a mind-blowing novel. ________________________________________ Re-read in 2018 Still flipping amazing. I. Love. This. Book. ________________________________________ 5/5 Stars! EDIT: I read this about two months ago, but I'm still thinking about it! Therefore, I bumped it up half a star, and changed my overall rating to 5 stars. This is seriously such an amazing novel. REVIEW: THIS WAS AMAZING! I swear, I took forever to read this (thank you, college), however, every time I picked it up, I could not get enough of it. The writing and characters were just superb, and I'm honestly quite upset to have finished this. 'Cause what else is going to hold my attention as well as this novel did? I've never read Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (her most known work), but I'm going to have to pick it up now. Though, I do wonder if that novel will stand a chance against this one. One of the main reasons this novel held my attention was because it wasn't a "who done it" book, but rather a, "why done it." I'm not too fond of mystery novels, however, there was something so sinister and addictive about this book that I really didn't mind the mystery aspects. They were quite wonderful, and only added sparingly. I understand that some of you might pick this book up after my review, and some of you might not (your loss!). But if you do decide to give it a chance, I hope you will appreciate the descriptive and lovely writing that Tartt uses to slowly and steadily pull the reader in. I know there are some of you who won't have the patience for this novel, and that upsets me. However, I really think everyone should give it a chance. These characters - though extremely flawed and messed up - are the sort you will never forget. Honestly, this story is one you'll never forget. It's corrupt and terrible and nonsensical, but oh so addictive. Overall, Donna Tartt has just become an instant-buy author for me. I'm absolutely in love with her writing and her characters, and I cannot wait to read more of her work!

  15. 4 out of 5

    Candi

    "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." Hot damn this book was brilliant! I’m officially joining the ranks of Donna Tartt fans. Three things happened after I finished this book: 1) I wanted to start all over again 2) I had difficulty reading the books I chose next (even though they are "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." Hot damn this book was brilliant! I’m officially joining the ranks of Donna Tartt fans. Three things happened after I finished this book: 1) I wanted to start all over again 2) I had difficulty reading the books I chose next (even though they are excellent in their own right) 3) I couldn’t figure out how the hell to write this review! I’ve actually been afraid to read Tartt. I mean, what if I didn’t love her like everyone else? How was I going to explain that?! And now I can’t seem to coherently express why I admired her writing so much in this book. I’ll start perhaps with that quote above and that "morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs." I can totally relate to that. Perhaps not "at all costs", however. Richard, a middle-class Californian and the narrator of The Secret History, thirsts for the intellectual and glamorous life. More importantly, he’s searching for a place to belong; he yearns for what he believes to be ‘his people.’ Sounds familiar, right? And perhaps a bit clichéd? Well, there’s certainly nothing ordinary about this story. It’s intelligently crafted, and the reader is drawn right into the book alongside Richard. I can’t say I liked Richard, but for 500+ pages, I lived outside of my little world and smack dab in the middle of Richard’s. The setting is perfect and beautifully described – a small liberal arts college in rural Vermont. "Even now I remember those pictures, like pictures in a storybook one loved as a child. Radiant meadows, mountains vaporous in the trembling distance; leaves ankle-deep on a gusty autumn road; bonfires and fog in the valleys; cellos, dark windowpanes, snow." Then there are the characters! Richard somehow manages to edge into the small, exclusive Greek classics program run by the very enigmatic professor, Julian. The classics students, Richard included, see him definitely as a father-like figure, something each seemed to be lacking in their personal lives; but furthermore, he was nearly a god-like personage in their eyes. Richard is immediately attracted to this eccentric yet alluring group - Henry, Francis, Bunny, and the twins, Camilla and Charles. "… different as they all were they shared a certain coolness, a cruel, mannered charm which was not modern in the least but had a strange cold breath of the ancient world: they were magnificent creatures, such eyes, such hands, such looks—sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferehat." What do you do when you feel disillusioned and bored with your daily life? What happens when you are under the spell of a charismatic nature like Julian’s? Naturally, the group is easily swayed by his words. Even after finishing the last page of this novel, I still ask the question to what extent was Julian responsible, either directly or indirectly, for the actions of these students. "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?" I won’t get into the rest of the plot. We are told from the very beginning that there is a murder and that this group is responsible. But this is not an ordinary whodunit, as we know this fact from page one. It’s all about the thrilling suspense leading up to the event as well as the gripping psychological tension. The claustrophobic feeling held me in its tight embrace throughout the second half or last third of the novel. There are certainly overtones of Crime and Punishment within. It also brought to mind the feeling I had while reading The Talented Mr. Ripley. How could I actually find myself siding with the villain(s)? There was such a feeling of intimacy that Tartt created between the reader and Richard in this book, much like Highsmith did between the reader and Tom Ripley in her book. It’s ingenious! The Secret History is one of my favorite reads of the year, and will also sit on my favorites of all time shelf. It’s a literary thriller at its finest. As I was reading this on my kindle, I didn’t actually pay attention to the number of pages before I started. When I finished, I couldn’t believe this was actually 500+ pages. I could have read more! I had been about to start reading The Goldfinch, but I have to thank my friend Pedro who convinced me that this one should be first. I’m certain this would have deserved 5 stars regardless of the order of reading, but I’m fully confident that his advice was wise! Now I can’t wait to continue my Tartt adventures. "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."

  16. 5 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.

  17. 5 out of 5

    ELLIAS (elliasreads)

    BEAUTY IS TERROR. That should have been the title of this book, how each of the titular character views beauty.....and the unholy terror that comes from it.  Spoiler Discussion Live show here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSNew... Imagine if someone took a simple generic thriller mystery plot but added Latin phrases, subtle Greek history and references, a study of philosophy and logic, and unlikeable, privileged, and pretentious college students— you get this dense, ironic, well crafted BEAUTY IS TERROR. That should have been the title of this book, how each of the titular character views beauty.....and the unholy terror that comes from it.  Spoiler Discussion Live show here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSNew... Imagine if someone took a simple generic thriller mystery plot but added Latin phrases, subtle Greek history and references, a study of philosophy and logic, and unlikeable, privileged, and pretentious college students— you get this dense, ironic, well crafted, and brain killing book.  This book gave me a fucking headache. I want to reread it. Someday. But not anytime soon. It was so sad. And fucking depressing.  The conversations were sooo interesting to me. It’s was like having conversations I would never have with someone in the first place. Stronger in the sense that writing was SOOOO FUCKING GOOD!!!! The fact that she writes in way where its easy to articulate and understand that I wouldn’t be able to in an actual real life conversation is astounding to me. I couldn’t even tell it was taking place in the 80s; a true classic, still living up and strong to this day— timeless.  I liked this book. And then I really hated it. Bunny can go die. Well he did. And I don’t condone murder but this book made me feel so conflicted overall. It’s passionate, considerate, pretentious, arrogant, and somewhat chaotic read. Also very cold and lifeless— not in a bad way per se. Richard is honestly a really boring character, nothing that makes him stand out BUT the ordeal he went through and his need to belong gives him that edge that makes me give a second look.  I can definitely see why people have a love/hate relationship this book. It was really distinct outlook on character relationships- driven and heavy. Pretentious and tedious. Reminded me of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara and a little of Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo.  4 STARS. Twitter | Bookstagram | Youtube |

  18. 5 out of 5

    Joel Rochester

    i wanted to love this book. i like it, but i also have issues. there's a lot of good things with this book, but it's equally balanced with things that i didn't like or just made me question this book. join us for the liveshow tomorrow! for now, no thoughts, head empty.

  19. 4 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

  20. 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.

  21. 4 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. :)

  22. 4 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.

  23. 4 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.

  24. 5 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.)

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jim Fonseca

    Six students at an Ivy League college latch on to an elderly professor of Greek. They create a Greek “cult” that leads to murder and, in all, the death of three people. The story is told from the point of view of the outsider in the group: he’s the only kid from the west coast and the only one on financial aid. All the misfit characters come alive, each with his (and one her) personality. The story is told methodically, step by step, and you start to feel “this could have really happened.” A gre Six students at an Ivy League college latch on to an elderly professor of Greek. They create a Greek “cult” that leads to murder and, in all, the death of three people. The story is told from the point of view of the outsider in the group: he’s the only kid from the west coast and the only one on financial aid. All the misfit characters come alive, each with his (and one her) personality. The story is told methodically, step by step, and you start to feel “this could have really happened.” A great book, just a bit longer than necessary. Photo from greekboston.com

  26. 5 out of 5

    Sanne | Booksandquills

    So glad to have finally read this! I've owned this copy for a fair few years and organising a book club for it was a good push to read it (I'm afraid it would have been on my shelves for many more years to come otherwise). It was a quicker read than I expected and both fulfilled lots of the ideas I had about it (in the best way), but also surprised me in quite a few places. It was equally more gory than I thought it would be, and at the same time almost not gory enough! It immediately sucks you So glad to have finally read this! I've owned this copy for a fair few years and organising a book club for it was a good push to read it (I'm afraid it would have been on my shelves for many more years to come otherwise). It was a quicker read than I expected and both fulfilled lots of the ideas I had about it (in the best way), but also surprised me in quite a few places. It was equally more gory than I thought it would be, and at the same time almost not gory enough! It immediately sucks you into the story and makes you feel like you're walking right there with the characters, following their lectures and witnessing them in their lowest moments. I was a bit disappointed by how little personality the only main female character had in this, but otherwise would highly recommend, especially in the autumn.

  27. 5 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. :)

  28. 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.

  29. 5 out of 5

    ☙ nemo ❧

    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 "congrats bc the selection process was even more selective bc we had loads of applicants this year" and we were all just sitting there trying to pretend that we didn't end up there because of a book about 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 "congrats bc the selection process was even more selective bc we had loads of applicants this year" 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 and then i majored in classics at uni. so, uh. yeah.

  30. 4 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

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