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The Secret History Paperback – September 11, 1992
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“The Secret History succeeds magnificently. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously well-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” --The New York Times
“An accomplished psychological thriller. . . . Absolutely chilling. . . . Tartt has a stunning command of the lyrical.” --The Village Voice
“Beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish.” --Vogue
“A haunting, compelling, and brilliant piece of fiction. . . . Packed with literary allusion and told with a sophistication and texture that owes much more to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth.” --The Times (London)
“Her writing bewitches us. . . . The Secret History is a wonderfully beguiling book, a journey backward to the fierce and heady friendships of our school days, when all of us believed in our power to conjure up divinity and to be forgiven any sin.” --The Philadephia Inquirer
“Enthralling. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously wll-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” --The New York Times Book Review
“A huge, mesmerizing, galloping read, pleasurably devoured. . . . .Gorgeously written, relentlessly erudite.” –Vanity Fair
From the Inside Flap
Truly deserving of the accolade a modern classic, Donna Tartt's novel is a remarkable achievement--both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful.
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 their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.
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I was constantly surprised as I read, never knowing who to trust or what was really happening behind the often unreliable narrative. This is a fascinating melange of genres, of showing and telling. Like The Goldfinch, I expect to reread this at some point. Strongly recommended if you like literature to challenge you while always being accessible.
My only complaint is with the Kindle edition, which includes several random sections repeated after the end. I read them for a while, thinking maybe it would prove another challenge, showing an alternative parallel universe where things went differently. In the end, it was clear this was an editor’s error and I stopped with maybe 100 pages to go. I hope I didn’t miss anything, but I’m pretty sure I didn’t.
I love that the book opens with a murder because Richard starts off as a bit of a Holden Caulfield and the first half of the book just drags. None of the characters were remotely likable and, in the strangest way, I feel like I had met them all in college. They were pretentious and hyper-intellectual, but overall disasters. The poor pacing gives this first half 2 stars out of five.
Then the second half starts and my enjoyment sky-rocketed. The characters don't get any more likable, but at least they get interesting. The entire fabric of Richard's reality starts falling apart. Secrets pop up and each influence in his life develops several extra dimensions. I particularly am fascinated by the charismatic Henry and the cowardly Francis. They were so fleshed out, even though Henry only allowed small glimpses of their true personalities.
One of my biggest complaints was the sense of pacing. Sequences that lasted weeks, took a matter of paragraphs while entire hours lasted for pages. I kind of got the effect of adding tension in that way, but it wasn't for me.
Ultimately, some really devious characters and interesting exploration on the effect trauma has on people's perception. I'm not sure this book was for me, but I am glad I read it.
This one has a male protagonist in the manner of the narrator of "The Great Gatsby" - an outsider who observes the others and becomes part of their group, but without fully engaging. The plot is kind of like a murder mystery, but the murderer is known from the beginning. The characters are super-intellectual, well-to-do, and entitled college students at a New England small college in the late 80s, early 90s. I found the writing to be engaging and to keep my interest throughout, though you might experience none of the characters as particularly "good" or fully likable. Some heavy-handed tragic plot points.
Richard is constantly attempting to fit in with the other five, who all come from upper-class backgrounds with liberal mores. They exhibit typical college behavior: too much to drink and too little sleep. But it is their sense of entitlement, perhaps superiority, that takes them way beyond exceeding middle-class propriety. Essentially dominated by Henry, the richest of them all, they, in the end, are willing to justify capital offences. But then their easy harmony begins to show serious cracks. Doubts, jealousies and condemnations emerge. The only question is when and how much unraveling will occur.
This group is a bit hard to imagine, they almost seem quaint. Although countless pages are devoted to their decadent behavior, they aren't really that well understood. Part of that is because Richard is an outsider; his mindset is not theirs. The book is interesting commentary on where the lack of constraint in a small insular, intellectual group of arrogant college kids can lead, despite a certain implausibility.