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.
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!
on 29 November 2006
I found myself trying to sell the story of The Secret History to a friend of mine in an effort to get him to read it. It went something like this.
ME: Its reeeeeeeally good. Its about this close knit group of college kids who do something really shocking and then do something more shocking to cover the first thing up!
ME: Um....... that's about it really.
I resorted to reading the cover notes to him and they weren't much better. Y'see, there are only a few shocking moments within the book but they are essential building blocks for later parts of the novel. To tell you, nay even hint as to what the shocking moments are would ruin vast swathes of this novel for you, and shame shame shame shame on other reviewers on these pages for doing so. SHAME!
This novel is beautiful and claustrophobic. Donna Tartt's writing style elegantly and effortlessly guides you through this bizarre world of academia. Her characters are fully rounded and complete and, as you expect from any good novel, you find yourself totally believing in them.
Underneath the subtle cover, bland title and nondescript blurb on the back is a doozer of a story. I recommend this title to anyone.
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.
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.
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.
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!
on 4 September 2006
I would recommend The Secret History to anyone because it is truly superb.
I don't normally read much fiction, and I prefer fast paced story lines and authors who do not include too much detail and description. However, The Secret History is the opposite to this and I loved it. The plot moves slowly but this allows for interesting psychological insights about each character to develop. Donna Tartt's readable style of writing kept me intrigued and wanting to know what would happen right up until the final page.
From the outset the story appears to be the usual tale of a group of young friends at university, but this soon turns into a tale of self-destruction. Although the book is set in modern times, the characters all seem to be trapped in their own world and are fairly closed off to the rest of society. This makes them come across as quite old fashioned. The frequent references to Ancient Greek language and culture also give the book a sense of history and antiquation. Thus the book is truly a modern classic. Read it!
on 30 April 2014
My son is studying philosophy would probably enjoy the focus on ancient greece, tragedy etc. I did not. I found the whole novel was far too pretentious in every way. Its not a light read and probably good for a study of English literature but I suspect those that recommend it do so for ego reasons.
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.