76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

The Secret HistoryMuch as I hate to admit it, I judged this book by its cover and by its title. I assumed that it was going to be a predictable romance tale in which the hero (or heroine) has a terrible secret which eventually comes out and nearly ruins everything before a big reunion just in time for the final curtain.

I was wrong. And not just a little bit wrong but totally, utterly, completely mistaken.

For a start, there’s no romance. There’s a bit of sex but that’s entirely incidental to the rest of the plot.

Because this is a crime story about a group of college students whose studies of classical Greek literature turn murderous. Don’t hate me, that’s not a spoiler – the murder takes place in the prologue.

The narrator for this story is one Richard Papen who has been drifting through life and makes the decision to apply to Hampden college on a whim and the decision to study classical Greek on an even flimsier whim. Now that I’m thinking about it the way Richard approaches his life is actually fairly annoying – the rest of the group are rolling in money so can afford to study something with (forgive me linguists) with few real world applications. Richard, on the other hand, spends the novel hiding the fact that he is on financial aid from his friends. Given the fight that he had to secure that funding I find it incredibly ungrateful that he goes on to waste his time studying Greek. But anyway, enough of that.

Richard’s friends are a somewhat eccentric group who all have more money than sense and spend most of their time in a drugged or drunken haze while conversing about ephemeral matters in Latin or Greek. They’re not exactly a group I found it easy to relate to and it was hard to like any of them. Just when I thought I was warming to someone they’d do or say something so obnoxious that I’d go right off them again. This goes for Richard as well although I liked him more than any of the others.

The whole book is quite bizarre and the point at which the storyline turns criminal is as odd as any of the rest of it but in a really strange way it works. There are a number of points where Richard is out of step with the rest of the group and their erratic behaviour is only explained when someone fills him in. That device works to make the reader bond with Richard a bit more as we’re all left out together and out of the mouths of this group, any explanation is believable so the madness can be excused.

This isn’t sounding like the most positive review but I actually enjoyed this book, it was like a window into a world I don’t quite believe exists – the world of the super privileged who can and do get away with anything and it also explores the different ways in which people deal with guilt which was an interesting plotline.

The more I think about it the more bizarre the whole story seems but when I was caught up in reading it I didn’t notice it to the same extent, I suppose I had suspended my disbelief so I could accept anything. The day after I finished reading it I offered the book to a friend and when she asked what it was about and whether I’d enjoyed it I didn’t really know how to describe it. She still took it off me though so I’m looking forward to seeing what she makes of it!

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4 responses to “76. The Secret History, Donna Tartt

  1. This book is one of my all-time favourites. Tartt’s writing is just brilliant and the story is very original. I’m looking forward to reading her next book ‘The Goldfinch’ which will be published later this year.

    • It certainly was original! And it really kept me wrapped up in what was going on. I didn’t know she had a new one coming out, I’ll have to get hold of one of those!

  2. Pingback: 2013 storified. | Books on the Tube

  3. Pingback: 43. The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald | Books on the Tube

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