20 of 21 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
45 of 50 people found the following review helpful
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.
153 of 171 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.
16 of 18 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.
30 of 34 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.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Donna Tartt's debut novel has spawned a host of much poorer 'campus novels' (including Benjamin Wood's 'The Bellwether Revivals', which I found sloppily written and unbearably pretentious) - but is no less worth reading for that. A taut, fast-paced tale of Greek myth, controlling teacher-pupil relationships, insecurities and criminal psychology, it's pretty well unputdownable.
The narrator, Richard Papin, is a shy, insecure young man from a poorly-off Californian family. His passion for Greek sees him chucking his medical studies, and transferring from his Californian university to a liberal arts college in Vermont to study English literature, with - he hopes - subsidiary classics. The snag is that the sole Classics lecturer, Julian, will only take a small selected group at a time, and insists on tutoring them for virtually everything. However, after an initial failure to join Julian's coterie, Richard is accepted, and caught up in the lives of Julian's elite (and wealthy) students: bookish, brilliant and reserved Henry, elegant, fey Francis, jolly Bunny (real name Edmund - the only non-bright member of the group, and a terrible sponger on the others for money), and the twins, troubled, gentle Charles and enigmatic, beautiful Camilla. For a while, despite his lack of wealth (which he lies about) Richard is thrilled to be accepted in the group, and develops a hero-worshipping attitude to Julian and, to a lesser extent, Henry. But soon, he becomes aware that something very odd is going on, involving Henry, Francis and the twins. Eventually, Henry confesses to him that - in honour of Dionysus - he organized a Bacchanale at Francis's country estate, with dreadful consequences, about which Bunny (not included in the Bacchanale due to his lack of discipline) has recently found out. Almost without realizing, Richard finds himself drawn deeper into Henry and his friends' distress and dilemmas - until the group reach a terrible decision together (a decision we have already learnt about in the opening of the book). This takes us to roughly halfway through the book - the second half deals with the fall-out, and what it really might feel like to have been involved in a terrible crime.
In many ways, this book is absolutely brilliant. Tartt is expert in capturing Richard's insecurity, desperate need to be liked but also increasing horror at what he has become. I found his friendship with Francis, and Charles's slow collapse, almost unbearably moving at times, while the awkward, ambiguous relationship between Henry and Richard - Henry at times seems to need Richard more than the others, and at other times regard him as the most dispensable of the group) was fascinating. Even better was the examination of the teacher/pupil psychology, looking at how Julian needed to have his little group of acolytes but might not have needed them in quite the way the students believe. The first half - even if one knows quite a bit of what's going to happen - is fast-paced and mysterious, the second half, where the plot twists and turns are less certain, a real page-turner. Although the book is long, it never really feels so. And, as a Classicist's daughter, I loved the way that Greek myths and plays were worked into the text. Tartt also manages the impossible in such a chilling book - to occasionally be very funny (as in Bunny's dreadful John Donne essay).
Admittedly, if I stopped and thought, there were elements of the book that tested my credulity, or that slightly irritated or frustrated. Bunny came across from the start as so stupid and so unpleasant that I wondered why on earth he was ever selected as part of Julian's elite, and why Richard came to think of him so warmly. And if Bunny was so frightened of Henry, then why did he keep up the very nasty blackmailing of the group? I also found the lack of strong female characters at times frustrating. Camilla was an interesting figure, but (as Richard was the sole narrator) remained somewhat of an archetype of the mysterious elusive female, Judy was a caricature, and Sophie - who would have been an interesting contrast to both - hardly featured. I also would have liked to find out a bit more about Henry - particularly about his romantic relationship in the final section - and quite how sympathetic (or cold hearted) Tartt intended him to be. But maybe the whole point here was that Henry was a character shrouded in mystery. And as always with an 'outsider' narrator who never quite fits in, the dry, slightly distant voice can occasionally get a bit monotonous - I almost wondered if the novel would have been even better if Tartt had given us snippets from other characters' points of view. Finally, I was somewhat surprised by the amount people drank (and took drugs) and remained coherent. Yes, students drink (and I'm sure some do try out various drugs) but this sounded more like Andy Warhol's Factory than campus at times - and how was Richard managing to stand upright (or keep lying to the police) bearing in mind the number of uppers and downers he took?
However, even with these quibbles, I have to say that this was one of the most engrossing novels I've read for some time. I'm looking forward to reading more of Tartt's work soon, and thought this was an incredibly impressive debut.
15 of 17 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!
28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
on 19 December 2000
I can really only repeat what everyone else on this site has said. This book is quite simply stunning. WhaT i found interesting about this book was that I ordered it without any idea of the plot or any expectations. I read the first few pages and was intrigued but not hooked. A few days later I picked it up again and started to get a litle more interested. Gradually, page after page, I was more and more intrigued by the characters, until about 200 pages in I realised I was in the hands of a genius. WHat is brilliant about this is that it is not a jigsaw-puzzle whodunnit where you have to work out the key suspect etc. It is about the darkness in everyone. Most crime novels work on the suspension of disbelief but this novel is so scary because it is written with such detail, character depth and incident that you feel at times as if the writer is describing a true story.I don't see how anyone can fail to be spellbound by this book
41 of 47 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.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 15 May 2007
This book is BRILLIANT! I decided to read this book out of pure boredom despite the uninteresting cover. I was immediately riveted to the narrator's story, the characters were believable and despite no knowledge of the Classics it was enjoyable to read. The story moved astonishingly fast and felt like quite a short book (perhaps because I finished it within two days!). If I had to criticize it at all, I would say that some parts are quite depressing (taking drugs,smoking and drinking day after day), hopefully my days at college won't be quite that bad!
All in all, I thought this was a great book, I would recommend this book to anyone, particularly if you are young and have been put off by the books for GCSE's, it has certainly got me back into reading.