Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Available in physical books, audio book, or ebook
Truly deserving of the accolade a modern classic, Donna Tartt’s novel is a remarkable achievement–both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful.
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 their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.
What I Loved
I don’t even know where to start with this one; it’s one of my top 5 favorite books. If someone asks me for a recommendation, I always start with this one. I’ve read it several times and did a re-read recently as it’s the perfect book to kick off back-to-school season. The characters are fully fleshed out within the world and although none are particularly sympathetic, their actions and motives always make sense within the system. The story is told within a unique framing, where the end is told first, with the various pieces of the puzzle sliding into place as the story goes on.
One book jacket blurb refers to this as the “thinking person’s thriller” and it sums it up well. Sprinkled with Greek mythology, ancient languages, and ivy-covered private school references it is the true Dark Academia gold standard read. Published in 1992, it’s characters seem capable of being plucked from any time in the 1900s, especially in their language and mannerisms. It has a weird timelessness about it that find more enjoyable every time I read it.
To further entice, I’ve included the last part of the prologue here, shared with authors permission via Amazon.
“What are you doing up here? said Bunny, surprised, when he found the four of us waiting for him.
Why, looking for new ferns, said 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.
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.”
What I Didn’t
I can see why reviews of this book are either loved it or hated it. Looking at the characters on paper, they are snobbish “poor little rich kids” filled with ennui and living in completely unrelatable circumstances. The dialog seems impossible (I work with college students, they don’t speak like this!). If you have a hard time with unlikeable characters, this one isn’t for you.
“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.”
For me, The Secret History is one of those books that just devours you whole and reignites your love for literature.