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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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on 2 May 2001
The Secret History is in some ways unclassifiable ... it is a murder mystery, but you know who did it ... it is a remake of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment, and yet completely different ... it is a novel about college students, but unlike any other you have read. A group of students of classical Greek at an elite college in Vermont spend way too much time together, and this is the chilling outcome.
I have owned eight copies of this book. Anyone I loan it to either keeps it or passes it on to someone who does! And I have re-read it over a dozen times, just to feel again the inexorable passage through the plot, the feeling of inevitability about it all, and the edge-of-your-seat suspense which permeates the whole novel.
I hear Ms Tartt has just completed her second novel, nine years after this one was released. It has a lot to live up to. If you have never read The Secret History, do so right now, before someone makes a terrible movie out of it!
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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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on 17 December 2000
Having overlooked the sun-parched copy bought for 30 pence several years ago at a charity fete, I stumbled upon it by accident one November morning as I shifted a cupboard to let more of the sun into my garret. Serendipity! Although I am prone to hyperbole, this book surpasses most of the material I have read in some 30 years of adulthood. It would be stretching the English language to waffle on about how brilliantly written The Secret History is. I read it within two days and started it again a few hours later. This is unprecedented. It has all the appeal of a Classical drama. No crime novel comes close to it in style, suspense and literary expertise. Read it or you will miss out on the experience of a lifetime. Have I made my point?
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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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on 23 August 2014
Donna Tartt had somehow passed me by. However, when The Goldfinch hit the stands, I thought I should catch up by reading The Secret History. I have to say that I was pretty disappointed. The plot had potential, but the characters, without exception, lacked credibility. It took at least a hundred pages for me to remember which character was which, and, frankly, I did not care about any of them. Maybe it was because I had just come off a reading orgy, of reading everything ever written by Richard Russo, who is the master of writing character, but a novel without credible or memorable characters simply did not do it for me.
It is quite obvious that Ms Tartt has talent, but I am rather dreading picking up The Goldfinch.
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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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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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on 17 October 2014
Having just read the other reveiws for this book I realize that I might have missed something here.
I found the book slow, boring and indulgent. None of the characteres resonated for me. I could not have cared less about their outcome. There was not one character that I embraced.
If the book had not come highly reccommended I would have definitely have given up on it. However, I forced myself to read it right to the end, including the epilogue.
I did not warm to it. I did not embrace the story or the characters and quite honestly whilst it was "Different" I wished I hadn't wasted that time when there are so many other good books out there waiting to be read.
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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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