Donna Tartt is one of those authors you hear so much about from readers and Literature students all around the world. The amount of times I have been recommended her books is pretty high!
And despite knowing about her for years, I came around to her writing only this year. The Secret History is her first book published in 1992 and despite how much people love it. I apparently don’t share the same views.
Not entirely, but on some aspects.
The novel is narrated from the perspective of Richard talking about the murder of his college mate/friend; Bunny in which he was complicit along with 4 other people namely, Henry, Francis, and the twins: Charles and Camilla.
“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”
Before the actual murder, we’re told about his life in California where he was generally unhappy and how he moved to New England to study at Hampden College. There he lets everyone believe that he was brought up rich, in the sunny , Palm Springs of Cali, but in fact he is on financial aid and grew up in a small town called Plano.
“But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?’
Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.”
At Hampden, Richard comes to know about this Ancient Greek class by a Classics Professor Julian, but is denied admission because he only keeps a small group. Nonetheless, he gets in and is introduced to the 5 other students who were mentioned above.
“Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for the ones that I did not.”
The group has always remained exclusive, secretive and the talk of the campus for their weird behaviour, and now Richard comes to know them all very well. Along with being enamoured by the Professor who takes an avid interest in them all.
“Death is the mother of beauty,” said Henry. “And what is beauty?” “Terror.”
He notices tension between Henry and Bunny, where the latter seems to be living off the money Henry has. One day they announce they’re spending the summer in Italy, which is later on revealed to be forced by Bunny in compensation for silence about the murder of a farmer during a Bacchanal ritual.
“Why does that obstinate little voice in our heads torment us so? Could it be because it reminds us that we are alive, of our mortality, of our individual souls…?”
Henry, Francis, Camilla and Charles were involved in this ritual and when Bunny finds out he become angry, and starts blackmailing them all.
“What are the dead, anyway, but waves and energy? Light shining from a dead star?”
From there on, things become haywire with all four of them getting paranoid of being convicted of murder, and take drastic measures from keeping the secret hidden.
“They all shared a certain coolness, a cruel, mannered charm which was not modern in the least but had the strange cold breath of the ancient world : they were magnificent creatures, such eyes, such hands, such looks – sic oculos, sic ille manus, sic ora ferebat.”
I guess this will be the first book where I felt zero sympathy or remorse for any characters, and I don’t know if that is intentional.
Despite the circumstances of certain characters, even that couldn’t induce me to relate or empathize with them. The amount of alcohol consumed in this book could very well demand a big list of AA meetings for all of them to go at.
The characters were pretentious, elitists, a bunch of snobs, selfish and racists at times. Especially, Bunny who would casually go around joking about Homophobia.
Moreover, the character of Richard showed how a poor kid got stuck in a bunch of student who had connections, money and family to rely on. But despite all this, he got stuck in their activities. This is a reality that occurs alot when one goes to college.
Falling in with the wrong crowd and becoming a version of yourself that you can’t afford of keep up with, is a tale as old as time.
Also, this book has A TON of Greek elements in it. A lot of latin and Greek phrases, references, and mentions of authors. It may be a good introduction to the Greco-Roman world, but if that isn’t your cup of tea, then you’ll be bored or annoyed.
I don’t know why but I wasn’t moved or intrigued by this book. Maybe if I read it when I was younger, it would have left quite the impression on me. But apart from feeling zero remorse or sympathy for any character, there was nothing in the story for me.
Apart for some beautiful writing, tons of Greek that I had to translate on my phone a lot, and few liners here and there.
Onto the basics:
- Rating: 2.0/5.0
- Favorite quote: “Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”
- Reader level: this is hard, mainly because of the Greek and Latin phrases you’ll come across.
- Should you read: I don’t know…
- Would I read it again:
Till next time,