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The Secret History Paperback – April 13, 2004


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 576 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (April 13, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400031702
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400031702
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,429 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,292 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Tartt's much bruited first novel is a huge (592 pages) rambling story that is sometimes ponderous, sometimes highly entertaining. Part psychological thriller, part chronicle of debauched, wasted youth, it suffers from a basically improbable plot, a fault Tartt often redeems through the bravado of her execution. Narrator Richard Papen comes from a lower-class family and a loveless California home to the "hermetic, overheated atmosphere" of Vermont's Hampden College. Almost too easily, he is accepted into a clique of five socially sophisticated students who study Classics with an idiosyncratic, morally fraudulent professor. Despite their demanding curriculum (they quote Greek classics to each other at every opportunity) the friends spend most of their time drinking and taking pills. Finally they reveal to Richard that they accidentally killed a man during a bacchanalian frenzy; when one of their number seems ready to spill the secret, the group--now including Richard--must kill him, too. The best parts of the book occur after the second murder, when Tartt describes the effect of the death on a small community, the behavior of the victim's family and the conspirators' emotional disintegration. Here her gifts for social satire and character analysis are shown to good advantage and her writing is powerful and evocative. On the other hand, the plot's many inconsistencies, the self-indulgent, high-flown references to classic literature and the reliance on melodrama make one wish this had been a tauter, more focused novel. In the final analysis, however, readers may enjoy the pull of a mysterious, richly detailed story told by a talented writer. 75,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

This well-written first novel attempts to be several things: a psychological suspense thriller, a satire of collegiate mores and popular culture, and a philosophical bildungsroman. Supposedly brilliant students at a posh Vermont school (Bennington in thin disguise) are involved in two murders, one supposedly accidental and one deliberate. The book's many allusions, both literary and classical (the students are all classics majors studying with a professor described as both a genius and a deity) fail to provide the deeper resonance of such works as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose . Ultimately, it works best as a psychological thriller. Expect prepublication hype to generate interest in this book and buy accordingly. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/92.
- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

More About the Author

Donna Tartt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and is a graduate of Bennington College. She is the author of the novels The Secret History and The Little Friend, which have been translated into thirty languages.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

317 of 349 people found the following review helpful By Cedric's Mom VINE VOICE on November 18, 2002
Format: Paperback
First of all, I am not a Greek or Latin scholar or a student of comparative literature. Nor did I attend a highfalutin New England Ivy League school. I didn't understand the occasional lines of Greek, Latin, and French in this book, and I'm not an intellectual snob. But these small details don't detract from the thoroughly enjoyable experience of reading the Secret History. If you appreciate a well-written, well-told story that entertains, has good character development, an intriguing story, and reveals more than a little about human nature, you're going to like this book. As if that weren't enough, there's also a liberal dose of contempt for the rich, and who doesn't enjoy that?! For those who've studied Greek, Latin, French or the classics, the story will be even more rewarding.
Tartt uses Richard, the most accessible character, to tell the story with ease and authenticity. The six main characters (all in their early twenties) live in their own insular world at a small New England upper crust college, studying the classics with one solitary professor. There's Henry, the leader and probably the one most likely to succeed as a true scholar; Francis, the skittish hypochondriac; Charles and Camilla, the twins; Bunny, the obnoxious and ill-fated one of the bunch; and Richard, the California kid from the most humble background of all. At first, Richard can't believe his great luck to fall in with such a gilded clique, but as usual, things are not as they appear. Soon, the outer world intrudes (they bring this upon themselves, of course) and things fall apart. It's the telling of the unraveling that grips you as Tartt deftly controls how much to tell and when.
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215 of 244 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 22, 1998
Format: Paperback
There are a number of reasons that The Secret History has been one of my favorite leisure-reading selections for several years (and I have to admit that I re-read it periodically, typically devouring it in 2 or 3 nights). I think Donna Tartt's greatest gift lies in her ability to create a story that has the suspense and sales appeal of a mainstream bestseller AND a tremendous richness of texture, with a bit of philosophical and intellectual weight thrown in for good measure (granted, the book's not as deep as some people claim it is, but compared to the flimflam put out by authors like Robert Jordan or Tom Clancy or John Grisham, it's practically a college curriculum wrapped up into a single volume!). Ms. Tartt can create a mood and evoke a setting like no other popular writer I can think of, and I find her descriptive powers, her dialogue, and her attention to detail to be irresistible. I went to college in the late '80s, and I was a lower-middle-class kid from central Texas who wound up in an Ivy-league institution that, although it wasn't nearly as insular or uniformly snobbish as "Hampden"/Bennington College, had its fair share of decadent preppies. So to me, at least, a lot of Richard Papen's insecurities and anxieties ring true-to-life.
One last note: to readers who were bored or put off by the references to Greek, Latin, French, and English literature, I would suggest that, rather than condemn Ms. Tartt for being pretentious or pedantic, we be excited that someone has the daring and the ability to create a novel that has a high idea-to-page ratio AND supports an exciting, appealing story. If you don't understand an allusion, look it up and learn something new! [I'm a college instructor myself, so pardon a bit of pedantry on my part... :-) !]
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207 of 239 people found the following review helpful By E A Glaser on March 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
Since I'm so late to the game with regards to Donna Tartt's hit novel "The Secret History", I'll just try to list the things I found striking about the book, both positive and negative:
1) The author is clearly knowledgeable about ancient Greek, and conveys some of the power and expressiveness inherent in the language (or so I imagine -- I never studied it myself, but I would like to after reading this book).
2) "The Secret History" is definitely a page-turner. I read it in a mad frenzy over three days. I think the author "cheated" to keep my interest though -- clues to the plot are parcelled out quite parsimoniously and the reader is forced to share the confusion and gradual dawning of the narrator. It's well done but frustrating; the epicenter of my annoyance lies with the character of Henry, who is inscrutable and enigmatic throughout. The novel might have been less exciting without this haze thrown over the main characters' motivations, but it seems kind of cheap to build suspense by teasing the reader with half-heard conversations and veiled comments all the time.
3) The characters are drawn quickly and convincingly, but not fleshed out as much as I'd expect from such an ambitious novel. Otherwise I think the author's writing style is very good -- some nice turns of phrase but still very readable and not show-offy. Some reviewers here have complained about the brief bits of non-English dialogue. There are a few times when it's not translated, but they were rare enough not to bother me.
4) You can definitely guess what kind of college life the author had from "The Secret History". In the book she mercilessly stereotypes vapid cokeheads, aggressive party boys and loopy hippies.
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