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4.1 out of 5 stars
The Secret History
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on 27 October 2014
Donna Tartt writes very well. She describes her characters, places, emotions and events with great power, color, pitiless truth, sarcasm that reveal her profound knowledge of human character. Her style of writing is lyrical.

However she is more successful in describing the setting of the book rather than the action and she does not develop her characters. Her stories often get stuck as if she did not which direction to take...and the wait until she finds it is a bit painful. Also in both 'The Goldfinch' and in the 'Secret History' the very depiction of the main characters, adolescent and young people of all social strata in America tired me out with their super drugged and exaggerated drunken lifestyle. After a while I did not identify with them any more, I was neither sympathetic to them, nor did I love them or hate them. I just became uninterested and kept on reading. The young generation she writes about has not an iota of freshness, of innocence, of youth, or enthusiasm for life. They are puppets in the hands of fate.

Maybe that is what she wanted to say. But for me it was not enough for 900 pages. 'The Lord of the Flies' says it much better, more poignantly and in fewer pages
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on 17 April 2015
I'm amazied by the positive reviews on this one and the claims that it's a 'thriller' and a 'modern classic'. I thought the plot was terrible and the characters were worse - not one of them had a good bone in their ridiculous, drink and drug filled bodies. Despite ploughing on thinking that the 'twist' at some point would come, I was disappointed to find it never did and even the end was a let down. We read this as a book club and were all bemused by it..unfortunately I wouldn't recommend.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 26 May 2015
What starts off as a very good read, intriguing, prodding, swiftly goes downhill and becomes, literally, unreadable. Donna Tartt is no special writer (despite what people, blinded [influenced?], appear to claim), but the opening quarter of her debut 'The Secret History' is surprisingly very good (if you can get past the fact that the male narrator amateurishly sounds completely like a female!) - think of films like 'Dead Poets Society', 'The History Boys', 'Flatliners'. Much in the same vein, it features that feeling of entering higher education, learning of one's self, the joys of new experiences, love/romance/disappointment/fear, feeling part of an elite through social interests etc. However, Tartt then abandons all this, and the last three-quarters of the book, given a "narrative-shift", is like watching an ITV 'made-for-families' murder-drama - in other words, naff, flat, dull, tacky; very 'middle-aged'. It gets so bad, you are able to read a sentence-a-page without missing anything; it then gets to the point where you can't read at all anymore. And this last three-quarters is so bloated (the book is over 600-pages long), you wonder if even a gastric-band would make a difference. A shame, considering the promise of the opening....
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 5 February 2015
I've read a couple of Tartt's books previously( Goldfinch/ little friend) and have always been impressed. In theory, the premise of this book is a very good one: a group of rich 'outsider' college kids do something terrible & have to face the consequences. This part I have no problem with. Each character has a strong, unique presence and a convincing, intricate, well rounded back story. However Tartt seems to be using this novel as a platform to showcase her extensive knowledge of ancient Greek & finds any excuse to shove it down the reader's throat! There seems to be no correlation between the story & the overly long passages pertaining to Greek (other than the student's are studying it at university). I found myself glazing over at these points & skipping forward to the point where the plot progresses. Normally I love a good thick book, but like I said in my heading, at least 200 pages of this particular novel are superfluous to requirements & quite simply just get in the way of a good story!
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
on 21 April 2000
Simply wonderful. The picture it paints of a small group of priviledged, charasmatic, yet aloof students, seen through the eyes of outsider Richard is mesmerising. As the narrator draws us into their world, we are first intregued, then fascinated, and finally horrified by them. What grips the reader is not the mystery of their crime (the narrator reveals all in the first few pages) but the interplay of characters that leads them inexorably into murder and the shattering effect that it has on each one of them. Throughout, Ms Tart handles things superbly. The narrative is handled in the 'elegant, ruminative voice of Brideshead Revisited'. The pace is superbly judged, as Ms Tart imperceptibly peels away layer after layer to reveal deeper, darker secrets. But it is not a bitter book - the reader is left sharing the narrator's jaded affection for each of the characters - the bombastic Bunny; the cerebral and aloof Henry, the delecate and enegmatic Camilla . I can't recommend this book highly enough. At over 600 pages, it promises to be overblown. But I guarantee that, like me, when you come to the final page, you'll be sorry there weren't 600 more.
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146 of 164 people found the following review helpful
on 30 March 2001
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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40 of 45 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon 8 June 2007
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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29 of 33 people found the following review helpful
on 25 February 2001
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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15 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on 13 September 2006
Richard Papen is a scholarship student at a University in Vermont. There, he meets a group of students of Greek, by whom he is fascinated, and finds himself slowly drawn into their circle. Their leader, Henry, is a brilliant but brooding and distant character, and in their otherworldly existence where the romance and mystique of ancient Greece mingle with the rarified and privileged life at college, the group find themselves party to manslaughter, and then murder.

The book is a study in psychological horror, as the inevitable events flow like a Greek tragedy of their own. We are brought face-to-face with psychopathic behaviour, obesession, addiction, paranoia and deep dark fear, and are forced to ask ourselves the question: how would we respond? What would we do?

The book has an excellent pace, and is beautifully balanced and structured, with suspense and mystery at every turn. It's one that you want to keep reading, and is truly a pleasure. The writing is excellent and the classical references are thrown in with apparent authenticity and without condescension, in just the right measure. At the same time, there is an underlying, very dark humour, that perfectly offsets the pathos that would otherwise be almost unbearable.

This first rate work deserves the highest commendation. Read it.
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40 of 46 people found the following review helpful
on 5 December 2006
This is a very entertaining story of a group of "haves" and a young man who is clearly a "have not". He is seduced by the idea of being in this new group, and his desperation to be part of them leads him to be complicit in a secret that will eventually destroy them.

This could so easily be a murder/mystery novel but it's much, much more than that. The characters, although one dimensional at times, work well as a collective and the main character is sympathetic and believable.

There is something about the way this is written though, that I just can't put my finger on. Almost like the author is patting herself on the back for being so intelligent and encorporating so much greek into her novel. Still, I have read this several times and will read it again.

I also suggest Continuum Contemporaries series: Donna Tartt's "The Secret History": A Reader's Guide for those that want to delve deeper.
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