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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's a thriller
That's what you really need to know about this one. It's a thriller. Seemingly like many people I got tricked by the rather arty Penguin covers into thinking this was a "modern classic" exploring themes of evil and human nature. It's not. Arguably, it tries to turn conventional morality on its head by persuading us that we can all sympathise and empathise with murderers,...
Published on 8 Jun 2007 by Jonathan Birch

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Insider story of America's debauched elite
With so much fuss in the press about her recent novel Goldfinch, I picked up a copy of The Secret History to read Tartt's works in order (I'd missed it the first time round in 1992).

This is a strange book that has a hypnotic feel with the protagonist Richard slowly falling under the spell of the weird goings-on of the peculiar group of university classics...
Published 14 days ago by Tom Doyle


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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars It's a thriller, 8 Jun 2007
By 
Jonathan Birch (Cambridge) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
That's what you really need to know about this one. It's a thriller. Seemingly like many people I got tricked by the rather arty Penguin covers into thinking this was a "modern classic" exploring themes of evil and human nature. It's not. Arguably, it tries to turn conventional morality on its head by persuading us that we can all sympathise and empathise with murderers, but it doesn't achieve this - the plot is too far-fetched for any serious literary pretensions. I wasn't persuaded and I didn't see relevance to my own life. If you want to call it a "classic" in the conventional sense (i.e. something that goes on shelves near Austen, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Dickens) you must be pretty cynical about the state of modern literature. There are much better candidates out there.

That aside, it's a good thriller. If, like me, you found the Da Vinci Code unreadable, you'll have a much better time with this. It has suspenseful prose absolutely nailed. As it turns out, the book doesn't really have much action in it, but somehow I thought some dramatic twist was about to happen at the turn of every page. It really is that clever. All the irrelevant little detours seem loaded with tension, as the slowly dawning realisation ("How evil are these guys?") starts to cast a long shadow over the narrative.

In short: Nice thriller, great fun, shame about the false advertising.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Don't be put off by the accolade "modern classic", 28 Jun 2004
By A Customer
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
Most books saddled by the acclaim of the above label are generally tedious and leave you wishing you could reclaim those lost hours of your life spent ploughing through them. This is not one of them. I am surprised at the number of reviewers labelling the book dull; its pace is indeed langorous but this luxury seems a deliberate demarcation of the students' world from the modern, a point that is often stressed, no more so in the narrator's intrusion from California into the classical. I devoured this book and have just read it for the third time, an interesting exercise as on this occasion I was not as gripped by the dense lush prose as by the expert characterisation, which becomes less opaque on a second (plus) reading. This is a startling debut about moral weakness, self-deception, the ennui of post-adolescent college life and the classical world. I agree that the mysterious bacchanial should have been better explored but those expecting a tense, taut thriller should look elsewhere as this is not it. and do not look for a repetition of this dark,mournful world in The Little Friend, which in no way stands beside its predecessor.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars intelligently left field, 9 Dec 2007
By 
Dr. Vernon M. Hewitt (Bristol, UK.) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
I came across this book quite by accident - and over a dreafully blustery weekend read it cover to cover. It is long and meandering, full of clever academic asides and an insight into group dynamics and intimates. I do not think I have come across such an original character as `Bunny' in a long time. Tartt has produced someone as unique as Anthony Blanche in Brideshead, or even Rex Motram - although far less likeable than either! The observations of campus and dorm life are warming, and despite being British, the insights travel the pond well: I too had a fellow student like Judy on my corridoor many years agi! A thriller that is both comical and touching and intelligently written - it will not appeal to everryone - but it is long and indulgent and rather special.

I have just re-read this (2008) - a rare feat for a man who panics over what is left untouched on his shelves - but on this second go I was really impressed, really transported by this book. It isn't just Bunny, but all the characters - Henry especially - who I found, on first reading, slightly unapproachable. Tartt's ability to create an ambiance of intimacy and suspense is just breath taking easy. And the use of Greek - the central, rather mysterious position of Julian - which in so many other hands would fail, is excellently, sensitively done: the use and understanding of language is faultless.
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110 of 121 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars One in a million, 30 Mar 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
If I could take only one single book to the notorious island it would be The Secret History.
Originally I bought it only because a friend of mine had recommended it to me about a dozen times and kept asking me whether I had finally read it myself. Well. I was into 19th century classics at the time and really really really didn't feel like reading a novel by an unknown contemporary author. And an American one as well! So I bought and started reading it only to avoid further awkward quesions.
What can I say? I truly love books and have read hundreds. But none, literally NONE, ever made me feel the way The Secret History did and still does. It's the most fascinating and gripping book I've ever had the honour to read. The characters are fascinatingly mysterious; the plot the most interesting one I can think of; the setting great; and the language simply wonderful.
The bad thing about having read The Secret History (10 times? 11?) is that now I will always be longing for another one like it. The Secret History is THE book.
I know that other readers have experienced the same. Many of them keep asking about a new novel by Donna Tartt. I don't. I don't really want her to write another one, and I don't think she will. Every serious author wants their new novel to be just a little bit better than the last one. And let's face it: Donna Tartt will never achieve that because she's already written the perfect novel.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant, 29 Jan 2008
By 
R. Worthington (Amersham, bucks, UK) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
This book is just brilliant. I don't really read that much because I've never really found books that would take to me to different worlds, but something like "A Secret History" is what I've always wanted, it's funny, sad and scary, and it's a real page-turner,it keeps you guessing and there's always twists that you keep wanting to find out. It's quite long but you don't even notice how much you've read..and the in-depth descriptions are really worth it to get to know everything. Tartt is fantastic, her phrases and all her descriptions are so realistic, she pinpoints Richard's views, his memories, ones that are clearer than others, they're all so perfect that you'd think she's lived it herself. You should definitely read this book, it's a longun but it's worth it! Now my challenge is to find something to fill the hole!! I'd also highly recommend reading Tino Georgiou's masterpiece--The Fates--if you missed it.
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37 of 42 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Murderous misdeeds in American academia, 28 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Secret History (Hardcover)
From the outside looking in present day America appears obsessed with little more than pop culture, gun culture and the prime time bleatings of Oprah and Jerry; but a vastly different nation emerges from the pages of this extraordinary novel, focusing on a mysterious class of Greek language students whose cerebral pursuits turn distinctly nasty. The narrative is provided by Richard, a native of California who transfers to Hampden College on the East coast in an attempt to bury his small town past of TV dinners and gas stations. The students at Hampden are a different breed; moneyed offspring of the rich and powerful, and with little money and no friends he enrolls in the Greek class, hiding his social inadequacies behind a semi-fictitious identity. He becomes a drinking pal of the gregarious Bunny, a confidant to effeminate Francis and a trusted friend of the beautiful twins, Charles and Camilla. But it is Henry who makes the biggest impression upon him, with his towering intellect and ruthless pragmatism, and when Richard stumbles upon a thinly veiled secret of Henry's he delves deeper into the illicit twilight world of his new friends. As realisation dawns on him of his friend's murderous deeds he is forced to choose between communal loyalty and revealing to the police his knowledge of their crimes. His decision to remain silent contrasts starkly with that of a fellow classmate whose threatened betrayal results in the group's ultimate destruction, bringing with it fatal consequences. The Secret History is a surreal exploration of privileged youth educated beyond its means and lacking the moral strength or incentive to rein in its most primal desires. By combining the elements of a thriller with a coming-of-age drama, and adopting an almost European introspection Tartt has made an astonishing debut and achieved one of the literary landmarks of the Nineties, at the same time offering a disturbing allegory of modern day America. This is a novel that has to be read to be believed. Donna Tartt is a literary giant in the making ... What a talent!
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Insider story of America's debauched elite, 1 Sep 2014
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
With so much fuss in the press about her recent novel Goldfinch, I picked up a copy of The Secret History to read Tartt's works in order (I'd missed it the first time round in 1992).

This is a strange book that has a hypnotic feel with the protagonist Richard slowly falling under the spell of the weird goings-on of the peculiar group of university classics students at its centre. What they get up to is so unbelievable and pointless that it's hard to get into the plot. Tartt uses shock tactics to maintain 'suspense', though you know where things are going from the flash-forward opening. So it's a thriller of sorts, but with most of the thrills dished out ahead of time. I found it an odd in-between type of book: part American novel, part crime novel, part satire, part comedy. There's plenty of humour mixed in, especially Bunny's antics and the various drug and booze fuelled tales of campus life.

For me, the satire stood out: the insight into a wealthy middle-class north-eastern university where debauchery and amorality pervades. These are America's 'elite' - with the outsider protagonist acting as a counterpoint, though he is soon sucked in. Yet they shun their privilege and their debased behaviour runs riot; parents either knowing little of what goes on or turning a blind eye. And some of the parents, such as Bunny's mother with her cabinet full of dodgy pills, show that the students have the genes for letting it all hang out.

There's not really a likeable character. There's a bit of too much banging on about the classics. And there's no way they would have got away with it. But the writing is so concise and dialogue so well done that you're carried along the 600 odd pages (could have been shorter).
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22 of 25 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, 10 April 2007
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
A totally engrossing read - fairly romps along, so that despite its length the pacing, the well drawn characters and their unspeakable dilemmas make it one of those rare books that keep you up late determined to read to the end. The sense of claustrophobic evil and the disintegration of a group of friends drunk on their own cleverness is threaded throughout with classic Greek references. This display of erudition is dazzling to a non classics scholar such as myself, and only enhances the enjoyment.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An excellent, gripping read, 4 Jan 2005
By 
Stracs "Stracs" (Leeds, UK) - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)   
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
I saw The Secret History in the BBC's Big Read list and was intrigued as it was once of the few books I had not heard of. Needless to say it truly deserved its place in that list as it is a fantastic book. Right from the first page I was gripped. The premise if pretty unique - a group of Classics students at a university in America involved in a murder during a type of out of body experience and the consequences of these events. Whist these events may seem far fetched, please stick with he book as it is not the act of the murder or how it comes about that matters so much as its consequences. These consequences are brilliantly described. Classical references are throughout the book but never make the book too highbrow or difficult to read. Instead they add depth to the characters and storylines.
The characters are the strongest elememt of the book, and particularly Henry. Henry is the ring leader of sorts, and is an enigmatic and complex character. He is perfectly drawn by the author, so much so that he almost leaps off the page at you. I found it a pleasure trying to understand this very human character. The other characters are excellent too and all add a unique element of their own to the novel. They all seem like real people and will stay with you after you have read the book in much the same way as the great characters from the classics do.
This novel is an absolute pleasure to read. The murder is reveled on the first page, as are those who committed it, and yet the suspense is ever present throughout the book. The difference between this and other murder novels is that rather than being about the act of murder itself, this book is about the consequences of the act for both victims and perpetraitors. It is an excellent study of guilt and how it can destroy people and relationships. The Secret History is a must read for any dedicated reader out there.
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27 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars absolutely mind- blowing, 25 Feb 2001
By A Customer
This review is from: The Secret History (Paperback)
There are only a few books out of the masses that I have read, that leave me completely speechless.The first experience I had of this was reading "Lord of the Flies" a couple of months ago.If u haven't read it then read it.In a way, I feel that the secret history is very similar as it is, taken to a basic level, an excellent psycological experiment on the human nature taken to it's most primitive form. I have never experienced so many emotions all in one book.It shocked me to tears, it made me laugh but mostly it evoked an overwhelming sense of utter chaos and tragedy and made me desperately sorry for each and every character. I would not say that everyone will enjoy it because this is not true. If you love something that grips you in a way that is terrifying but also requires you to think, you will eat this up in one gulp and treasure it for it is truly a masterpiece! The story is about a group of American students at an elite college.It is told from the point of view of Richard Papen, a newcomer into the classic Greek class.At first he is thrilled to be around a very select group of intelligent friends, but after a while he is sucked into a tangle of obsessive and eventually murderous minds. It is a psycological study of what guilt can do to a person, these kids literally fall apart.The pure horror of it is terrifying. To give you an example of the magic, consider this thought, if you could manage to convince yourself that intentionally planning and carrying out your own friend's murder, was the right thing to do, not only that but the only way out, what does this say about you?? I love this book so much, please read it.
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The Secret History
The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Paperback - 1 July 1993)
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