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The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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The Secret History (1992)

by Donna Tartt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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11,715311225 (4.09)589
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» See also 589 mentions

English (290)  Dutch (9)  French (5)  Swedish (4)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (311)
Showing 1-5 of 290 (next | show all)
Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

The Secret History is an odd sort of book. It feels like a weird mishmash of ideas, part-Brideshead Revisited, part-Talented Mister Ripley, part-The Great Gatsby and part-infused with the cynicism inherent in a lot of modern literary fiction (I felt overtones of the same atmosphere in Atonement and The Magicians too, though I liked those books much, much less.) It is, in essence, a murder mystery that begins with the murder and ends with mystery, perhaps more than I would like.

I'm not really sure what it was that ultimately worked for me - I think it was the cohesive nature of the plot that held together. The overarching mystery about why each of the characters acts in their own particular and specific way was truly compelling. It's also very easy to see how Richard ends up embroiled in the world of these rich kids, wanting to believe that there is something special about him, about all of them, that he is chosen. That the book opens with a death makes it pretty clear that things aren't really going to end well.

Tartt's prose is good, in some places great. And she knows how to withhold the right amount of information, how to tease you through the plot and make you feel like you're always on the point of revelation - but never actually giving it all away, even at the end. This is one of her greatest strengths - but at the end, I didn't feel like it was enough. The characterisation is great in places - Richard, for example, is fully believable as someone from an obscure background who wants to move beyond that - but weak in others - Henry is a bit of a sociopath and I don't really get much else from him. I think that is partially the point, but I don't really feel like she made it work all that well. I didn't buy Camilla's attraction to him either, especially after the length of time that had passed at the end - I could maybe even accept it in the context of the period while they were at college but not after the fact.

Like I said though - compelling! I enjoyed being suckered into the college-y world and the gradual disintegration of everything that Richard has believed about himself and the others. I was also kind of glad that nothing terrible happened to Richard because I did just feel awfully sorry for him most of the time even though he was a complete ass. I give The Secret History eight out of ten. ( )
  thebookmagpie | Jan 30, 2016 |
Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

The Secret History is an odd sort of book. It feels like a weird mishmash of ideas, part-Brideshead Revisited, part-Talented Mister Ripley, part-The Great Gatsby and part-infused with the cynicism inherent in a lot of modern literary fiction (I felt overtones of the same atmosphere in Atonement and The Magicians too, though I liked those books much, much less.) It is, in essence, a murder mystery that begins with the murder and ends with mystery, perhaps more than I would like.

I'm not really sure what it was that ultimately worked for me - I think it was the cohesive nature of the plot that held together. The overarching mystery about why each of the characters acts in their own particular and specific way was truly compelling. It's also very easy to see how Richard ends up embroiled in the world of these rich kids, wanting to believe that there is something special about him, about all of them, that he is chosen. That the book opens with a death makes it pretty clear that things aren't really going to end well.

Tartt's prose is good, in some places great. And she knows how to withhold the right amount of information, how to tease you through the plot and make you feel like you're always on the point of revelation - but never actually giving it all away, even at the end. This is one of her greatest strengths - but at the end, I didn't feel like it was enough. The characterisation is great in places - Richard, for example, is fully believable as someone from an obscure background who wants to move beyond that - but weak in others - Henry is a bit of a sociopath and I don't really get much else from him. I think that is partially the point, but I don't really feel like she made it work all that well. I didn't buy Camilla's attraction to him either, especially after the length of time that had passed at the end - I could maybe even accept it in the context of the period while they were at college but not after the fact.

Like I said though - compelling! I enjoyed being suckered into the college-y world and the gradual disintegration of everything that Richard has believed about himself and the others. I was also kind of glad that nothing terrible happened to Richard because I did just feel awfully sorry for him most of the time even though he was a complete ass. I give The Secret History eight out of ten. ( )
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

The Secret History is an odd sort of book. It feels like a weird mishmash of ideas, part-Brideshead Revisited, part-Talented Mister Ripley, part-The Great Gatsby and part-infused with the cynicism inherent in a lot of modern literary fiction (I felt overtones of the same atmosphere in Atonement and The Magicians too, though I liked those books much, much less.) It is, in essence, a murder mystery that begins with the murder and ends with mystery, perhaps more than I would like.

I'm not really sure what it was that ultimately worked for me - I think it was the cohesive nature of the plot that held together. The overarching mystery about why each of the characters acts in their own particular and specific way was truly compelling. It's also very easy to see how Richard ends up embroiled in the world of these rich kids, wanting to believe that there is something special about him, about all of them, that he is chosen. That the book opens with a death makes it pretty clear that things aren't really going to end well.

Tartt's prose is good, in some places great. And she knows how to withhold the right amount of information, how to tease you through the plot and make you feel like you're always on the point of revelation - but never actually giving it all away, even at the end. This is one of her greatest strengths - but at the end, I didn't feel like it was enough. The characterisation is great in places - Richard, for example, is fully believable as someone from an obscure background who wants to move beyond that - but weak in others - Henry is a bit of a sociopath and I don't really get much else from him. I think that is partially the point, but I don't really feel like she made it work all that well. I didn't buy Camilla's attraction to him either, especially after the length of time that had passed at the end - I could maybe even accept it in the context of the period while they were at college but not after the fact.

Like I said though - compelling! I enjoyed being suckered into the college-y world and the gradual disintegration of everything that Richard has believed about himself and the others. I was also kind of glad that nothing terrible happened to Richard because I did just feel awfully sorry for him most of the time even though he was a complete ass. I give The Secret History eight out of ten. ( )
  hoegbottom | Jan 30, 2016 |
There was a point in the middle of this book when I felt like bailing on it. Do I really care about any of these characters? Can I even tell them apart? However, something about the "Crime and Punishment" feel of the book kept me reading. I'm reminded of Borges' criticism of "Crime and Punishment": that the character was so wrapped up in his crime that nothing else was even described. You still have to get groceries, right? (Borges put it much more elegantly, I'm sure). But Tartt did a good job of showing how this group of people had made a world unto themselves. Outside those walls, they found it hard to breathe/function/understand. Some great mood pieces and, interestingly enough, the characters of Francis and Charles did take life (no pun intended) toward the end. I also was briefly reminded of "The Good Soldier" by Ford Madox Ford (I loved that book) in that I (the reader) sometimes felt like I knew more than the narrator about circumstances unfolding (not an easy thing to pull off). ( )
  bibleblaster | Jan 23, 2016 |
***SPOILERS***


Summary:
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.

My take: 3 stars ***SPOILERS***
I have come and gone on this one. I disliked it, loved it, and finally, upon the last page, wonder if I should dislike it again.

Let me explain.

While I read to around 200 pages, I was struck by the similarities in this book and the move from 1989, "The Dead Poet's Society" (DPS). I even went as far to chart the characters in each:

DPS:


Todd = newbie
Neil = son of overbearing father

Knox = calm

Richard = overachiever

Gerald/Charlie = best friends

Charlie also described as a beatnik


The Secret History, published in 1992:


Todd = Richard = Newbie
Neil = ?

Knox = Francis = Calm

Richard = Henry = Overachiever

Gerard/Charlie = Charlie and Camilla = Best Friends

Charlie = Bunny = Beatnik

See what I mean?

Then, I kept reading and the story blossomed for me. The characters were richly drawn, and I was completely involved in the story. Meeting Bunny's family gave me a new understanding of his outlook on life, and the reasons behind his parasitic nature. Seeing Camilla and Charles spiral apart from one another was also interesting. Henry progressed from benevolent to malevolent, which I loved. Francis also started coming apart at the seams. Richard, as the narrator, was probably the least-known character to me.

However, I then come to the end. I warned of spoilers, so if you don't want the main one, STOP READING NOW.

When Henry kills himself, I was right back to DPS. Remember when Neil's father forces him to leave his beloved school and go to a military academy? And all because he wants to play the lead in "A Midsummer Night's Dream"? Neil shoots himself that very night, in his father's study. Ouch.

I know there are more differences than similarities, but the similarities are so striking that they are hard for me to discount.

"A Separate Peace" by John Knowles also deals with life among boys at a prestigious prep school. There is also a death. However, this is where the similarities end. Knowles' book stands on its own. Which is not quite what I can say about Tarrt's first novel.

All-in-all, the book was very well-written, prompting me to make numerous notes and highlights. If the path of the book were not so close to DPS, it would have been a solid 4 looks. However, the best I can do right now is 3.

Recommended. ( )
  CarmenMilligan | Jan 18, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 290 (next | show all)
As a ferociously well-paced entertainment, ... "The Secret History" succeeds magnificently. Forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled, "The Secret History" achieves just what Ms. Tartt seems to have set out to do: it marches with cool, classical inevitability toward its terrible conclusion.
 

» Add other authors (8 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tartt, Donnaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Wilde, BarbaraDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kidd, ChipDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lange, Barbara deTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Siikarla, EvaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in storytelling, and our story shall be the education of our heroes.
-- PLATO,
Republic, Book II
I enquire now as to the genesis of a philologist and assert the following:
1. A young man cannot possibly know what Greeks and Romans are.
2. He does not know whether he is suited for finding out about them.
-- FRIEDRICH NIETZSCHE,
Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen
Dedication
For Bret Easton Ellis,
whose generosity will never cease to warm my heart;
and for Paul Edward McGloin,
muse and Maecenas,
who is the dearest friend I will ever have in this world.
First words
The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. (Prologue)
Does such a thing as "the fatal flaw," that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature?
Quotations
...how I longed to be an orphan when I was a child!
[They were] sitting at a table that was spread with papers and pens and bottles of ink. The bottles of ink I remember particularly, because I was very charmed by them, and by the long black straight pens, which looked incredibly archaic and troublesome.
[The tutor] reached for a pen in a cup on his desk; amazingly, it was full of Montblanc fountain pens, Meisterstucks, at least a dozen of them.
"Guess what," said Bunny, "Henry bought himself a Montblanc pen." ... He nodded at the cup of sleek black pens that sat on Julian's desk. "How much are those things worth? ... Three hundred bucks a pop? ... I remember when you used to say how ugly they were. You used to say you'd never write with a thing in your life but a straight pen." ... Bunny picked [the pen] up and turned it back and forth in his fingers. "It's like the fat pencil I used to use in first grade," he said. ... "Now, what kind of pens do we all use here? Francois, you're a nib-and-bottle man like myself, no? ... and you, Robert? What sort of pens did they teach you to use in California?" "Ball points," I said.
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

Book description
Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldy, self-assured, and, 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...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0140167773, Paperback)

Truly deserving of the accolade "Modern Classic", Donna Tartt's novel "The Secret History" 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 for ever. "It takes my breath away". (Ruth Rendell). "Enthralling ...image the plot of Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment crossed with the story of Euripides' "Bacchae" set against the backdrop of Bret Easton Ellis' "The Rules of Attraction"...forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled...ferociously well-paced...remarkably powerful". ("The New York Times"). Donna Tartt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, and educated at the University of Mississippi and Bennington College. She is a novelist, essayist, and critic and author of "The Little Friend". "The Secret History" has been translated into twenty-four languages.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:15:56 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Richard Papen had never been to New England before his nineteenth year. Then he arrived at Hampeden College and quickly became seduced by the sweet, dark rhythms of campus life -- in particular by an elite group of five students, Greek scholars, worldly, self-assured, and at first glance, highly unapproachable.… (more)

» see all 8 descriptions

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