Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Genre: Adult Literary Fiction – Thriller
Synopsis: Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.
Let us begin by quickly letting you know what sort of book this is. This is the sort of book where none of the characters are likable, they are inherently selfish, spoiled, rich people whose moral compass seldom points north. There are many parts of this book, around 250 pages, that could have been cut out but Tartt strikes me as the type of writer that does not give a fuck if you have to waddle through pages and pages of rich selfish young people getting drunk and justifying their actions.
Our story takes place in a fictional Vermont Ivy-League college, Hampden. Our narrator, Richard, is a middle class kid from California who studies classics and notices an eccentric group of 5 students who always hang out together. Here begins his fascination with them, from the very beginning he wants to be one of them and thus begins his slow process of becoming one of them. The six study under the tutelage of Julian, an old eccentric classics teacher and him alone, this creates a sort of isolation and vacuum in their lives as the only people they really hang out with is each other.
This is a slow story-telling process, there is tension and there is brutality, moral ambiguity and much more. The book begins the first sentence letting you know that they’ve killed someone, all of them and that someone is part of their group. So then we go back to the beginning to explain how it happened and what led to the murder.
The most fascinating of the characters is Henry, I don’t want to say much about him because he’s essentially the main character but you don’t realize it until halfway thru. He is an incredibly crafted character, Tartt gives us a fact about him and keeps five facts to herself so that you’re constantly trying to guess what he’s thinking, doing and where he truly stands. He is the center that all of their lives revolve around and it was majestically done.
I think you have to go into this book prepared for Tartt’s writing style. The debauchery in this book is harsh and unapologetic. The way it wrapped up and that final realization of the utter unhappiness in these people was very poignant. I think, later on, when I think on it or perhaps when I reread it, I will love it more. This is definitely one of those book that will stick with me for years to come.
A word of advice: DO NOT DO THIS BOOK ON AUDIO! This was one of the worst audio books I’ve ever come across, Tartt herself narrates her book and it is incredibly distracting because one, she’s a woman and Richard is a man. I was so confused when it started and it never got better so I switched to the physical book. Two, Tartt has a distinct Southern accent and these people are all from New England with their posh accents and such. Needless to say, that is one audiobook that really needs to be redone and hire Steve Blum or someone who can really nail this book and do justice to it!