Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Release Date: 1992
Pages: Paperback, 576 pages
Summary: “Powerful…Enthrallling…A ferociously well-paced entertainment.”
THE NEW YORK TIMES
Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning….
“A smart, craftsman-like, viscerally compelling novel.”
Selected by the Book-of-the-Month Club
A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK (From Goodreads)
The Secret History is not your conventional mystery book since its main plot is about the reasons that led to the murder described in the prologue, and not about the process to discover the identities of killers which are uncovered in the beginning of the book.
The book is divided in four parts: the prologue, Book One, Book Two, and the Epilogue.
The Prologue, as I said before, tells us about the kill; Book One, goes back in time and presents the characters, their relationships and the events that led to the murder; Book Two follows the events after the murder and the impact that it caused in the characters and the Epilogue synthesizes the future of the characters that survived.
The book is narrated by Richard Papen, a twenty years old student, who lives California behind to study in Hampden University, a small liberal arts school in Vermont. Richard is a good and well-developed character that I really empathized with. Like me he has a “morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs”. This longing is very present in the first part of the book especially in the descriptions of Hampden University and in the personality of the five Ancient Greek students. It’s really interesting to see the evolution that Richard suffers from the beginning of the book to its end, living adolescence and entering adulthood, accepting himself and becoming more aware of the characters and the true motivations of the people surrounding him. I must say that Richard is not exactly a reliable narrator because his point of view of the events is prejudiced by his desire for the picturesque and for his eagerness to be accepted in the Ancient Greek group.
The group of Ancient Greek students is,as I said before, really picturesque. All the five: Henry, Bunny, Francis, Charles and Camilla are very different from each other and all of them are very peculiar and somewhat mysterious characters, that don’t mix with the other students. Richard becomes part of this group when the professor Julian Morrow accepts him in his elitist class of Ancient Greek. This is crucial point for the story, because if Richard had followed the advice of his counselor and declined the opportunity that Julian gave him, he would never isolated himself from the rest of the students, and would never be involved in the vicious actions of the group of Ancient Greek students, that had a profound impact in his life.
Tartt did a great job with characterization, which was vital for the book, because no psychological thriller can be good without well characterized characters.
I truly loved to discover the dynamics of the Ancient Greek group and see the position of everyone on it and watch their relations with each other evolve. It was amusing but at times disturbing.
I also enjoyed and was fascinated by the way Tartt explores the human emotions and the emotional consequences of an action in different people. It’s really my favourite part of the book, though it’s most present in Book Two, because Tartt’s writing is really powerful in that moment and the emotions almost transcend from the paper.
A well developed psychological thriller that explores human emotions to the limit.
“He refused to see anything about any of us except our most engaging qualities, which he cultivated and magnified to the exclusion of all our tedious and less desirable ones.”
“Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.”
“One likes to think that there’s something in it, that old platitude amor vincit omnia. But if I’ve learned one thing in my short sad life, it is that that particular platitude is a lie. Love doesn’t conquer everything. And whoever thinks it does is a fool.”
“Does such a thing as “the fatal flaw,” that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature?”