Customer Review

366 of 403 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Deserves All The Hype, November 18, 2002
This review is from: The Secret History (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. I marveled at her lush descriptions that rival a poet's, her skill at narrative and dialogue, and her most revealing descriptions of human mannerisms and behavior. She repeatedly builds intrigue and tension all the way to the end of the 500+ pages of the novel. This is no easy task, but she makes it look effortless. While reading it with an eye on technique, I think, "of course that's how it's done."
When this book came out 10 years ago, Donna Tartt was reported to have been paid the highest publishing advance ever for a first book, over $400,000. I don't know if the book is worth that or not, not knowing how worth is calculated in the publishing industry. Still, having read the Secret History, I can see what all of Tartt's fans have been waiting for these past 10 years, and the Little Friend is now on my list of must-reads.
Secret History is "definitely cinematic, baby." Images of The Bad Seed, Village of the Damned, and the Talented Mr. Ripley came to mind early in the story as Tartt developed the characters. The setting is so clearly drawn in some parts that I suspect Tartt wrote them with an eye on cinematic rendering. A top Hollywood director currently holds the rights and I'm looking forward to the movie.
The Ballantine Books Reader's Circle edition contains "A Conversation with Donna Tartt" along with "Questions and Topics for Discussion" for those fortunate enough to read this book in a group setting. I loved reading Tartt's list of authors she admires. It's no surprise that her list of poets is even longer. All of her interests are well represented in the Secret History, and if you share any of these, reading the book will be an even more fulfilling experience.
Don't be put off by the setting and character types in this book. You don't have to be a literary snob to understand or enjoy the story. It's worth the time to read the book, and if you're an aspiring writer, there is much here to educate and marvel at. I highly recommend the Secret History.
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Showing 1-10 of 10 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Aug 22, 2009 2:22:41 PM PDT
Last edited by the author on Aug 22, 2009 2:25:20 PM PDT
My neighbor recommended this book to me, hence my perusal of reviews here on Amazon. So far I've liked yours the best - you hooked me with your final paragraph. Like you, I'm not Ivy League-educated, indeed not college-educated at all but it has never interfered with my appreciation for good writing and good story. I'll definitely check this one out.
On a totally irrelevant note, is the rabbit Cedric? I have a cat named Cedric. Your user name is partly what prompted me to read your review; silly, I guess, but there you are!

Posted on Oct 16, 2011 3:05:50 PM PDT
»Donna Tartt was reported to have been paid the highest publishing advance ever for a first book, over $400,000«

Ah! Now I see what she was living on between the first novel and the second that appeared ten years after! In all seriousness, she is a gifted writer. I understand her third is coming in 2012.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 21, 2011 5:13:12 PM PDT
Cedric's Mom says:
Yes, that bunny rabbit is my Cedric. He went home to heaven last November, but I miss him everyday. He was a very special bunny rabbit.

I am currently re-reading Secret History and I am absolutely loving it! It's like hanging out with an old friend. I'm so glad that my review inspired you to read her book. She is just an amazing writer. Can't wait to read her next book.

In reply to an earlier post on Oct 21, 2011 5:15:33 PM PDT
Cedric's Mom says:
Yep, she was living off her advance. She really scored with this book. As I re-read it, I'm still amazed at how good a writer she is. Poor Richard, the narrator, is like Dostoevsky's Raskolnikov. Just a fabulous book.

In reply to an earlier post on May 3, 2012 3:42:54 AM PDT
Mr. D. James says:
Like your review. Sorry about the bunny (How we get attached to pets. I love my chickens and worry if they're comfy at night) I'm re-reading the book too. First read I wasn't too happy with the melodrama at the end. It went on too long and seemed a bit corny, but I enjoyed the beginning of the novel and maybe will reconcile myself.

Posted on Mar 10, 2013 7:33:21 AM PDT
beren says:
How ironic to see a single review containing both these lines:

"there's also a liberal dose of contempt for the rich, and who doesn't enjoy that?!"

"When this book came out 10 years ago, Donna Tartt was reported to have been paid the highest publishing advance ever for a first book, over $400,000"

In reply to an earlier post on Feb 27, 2014 1:11:44 PM PST
Last edited by the author on Feb 27, 2014 1:13:26 PM PST
i just finished Ms Tartt's recent release, The Goldfinch, and was totally enthralled by her writing. So much so, that i am about to read this, her first. I tell this to you (Cedric's Mom) simply because your review was so compelling, that i wanted to share this connection inspired by an author who clearly is not motivated by anything but writing (not simply publishing every year); this is a worthy distinction, so Thank You.

In reply to an earlier post on Jun 12, 2014 5:50:03 PM PDT
Maria Cott says:
$400,000 grand (before taxes) is not rich, especially if you live on it for 10 years.

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 3, 2014 10:04:34 AM PDT
Funny, I did the same thing--read (and loved) The Goldfinch, then ran out to buy The Secret History. I loved The Secret History too. Funny, in my book club, people either loved (me) or loathed (the others) The Goldfinch.

Posted on Jul 28, 2014 4:02:03 PM PDT
Gardenista says:
Your review says it all, Cedric's Mom. Thank you for a well-thought-out piece worthy of Donna's Tartt's writing. I've now read all three of her books (in reverse order of dates written) and now consider myself a fan. The chief complaint about "The Goldfinch,"--too much detail; too many words. All I an say to those critics is that it's clear to me Donna Tartt LOVES words and language (as do I) and delights in sculpting and arranging them to my great pleasure. Write on, Donna Tartt!
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