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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.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
12,127329208 (4.08)606
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    The Rules of Attraction by Bret Easton Ellis (yokai)
  8. 30
    The Basic Eight by Daniel Handler (zembla)
    zembla: A clique of elitist students' involvement in murder, told in foreboding prose. Tartt's writing is quietly eerie where Handler's is showily clever, reflecting the difference in their narrators' ages.
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    A Separate Peace by John Knowles (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Dark happenings at elite New England schools.
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  15. 10
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  16. 10
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    BookshelfMonstrosity: Something disturbing sometimes happens when young people congregate. These gothic tales feature young, bohemian, and intellectual characters becoming caught up in relationships that lead to tragic results.
  17. 10
    A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine (Bookmarque, KayCliff)
    Bookmarque: Reminiscent because of the group of students, but this murder is more shrouded and the supporting characters more distinct.
  18. 10
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    Becchanalia: Slow uncovering of a dark secret amongst a tight-knit group of friends. Lots of snow.
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(see all 29 recommendations)

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» See also 606 mentions

English (307)  Dutch (9)  French (5)  Swedish (5)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (329)
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I listened to this book and only after I was at least half-way through did I realize it was on the 1001 Books to Read Before you Die list. I had read Tartt’s The Goldfinch last year and liked it well enough to want to read more of her work. There are similarities between The Goldfinch and this book in that both involve a young man with parents who virtually ignore them. The young man in question in both books drinks and uses drugs to excess. Both also have close friends who influence their behavior in unhealthy ways. Of the two, I think this book is slightly better although neither one are “feel good” books.
Richard is the only child of a gas station owner and his wife in a small town in California. We learn later in the book that the father is physically abusive to both his wife and Richard which certainly explains why Richard chooses to go to a small college in Vermont to study classic literature. His parents barely pay enough to keep up the tuition and board and room. Fortunately (or so it seems at the time) he becomes close with a small group of students who are all studying Greek literature with an old professor named Julian. A number of the group are quite well off and they treat Richard to meals, drinks and even drugs. Henry and Francis are the most wealthy while Bunny Corcoran and the twins, Charles and Camilla, come from wealthy families. Bunny doesn’t actually have much money of his own and he cadges meals and luxurious holidays from Henry and Francis. He asks Richard out for lunch one day and then claims that he left his wallet at home and asks Richard to foot the bill. Richard is appalled as he has nowhere near enough money to settle the bill. Eventually Bunny calls Henry who comes to the restaurant and settles the bill. No classes are held at this college during the winter term. Most of the students go off on holidays but Richard can’t even afford to go home to California. He finds a job with a professor but he has to move out of his dorm room and the only place he can afford has a hole in the roof and no heat. Although Henry and Bunny have gone to Italy for the term something happens and Henry returns early. He finds Richard sick and almost dead of exposure and takes him to the hospital. He probably saved Richard’s life and Richard is very grateful to him. That’s why, when Bunny tells him during a drunken rant that Henry and the others killed a man in the fall, Richard goes to Henry to tell him Bunny is spreading this story. He learns that it is in fact the case that a man was bludgeoned to death by Henry during a bacchanal in the woods. Henry decides that Bunny must be disposed of to keep this secret safe. (Tartt uses a brilliant plot device about this by telling the reader at the beginning of the book that Bunny has been murdered. More than half of the book then deals with the events leading up to that.) After Bunny’s body is found all of the remaining members of the group go to pieces in one way or another. Richard seemingly comes out the best in that he actually manages to graduate from college but, as he is the narrator, it is obvious that he is an unhappy and directionless man. The secret has, in one way or another, destroyed all of the group.
Some people have likened this book to A Separate Peace by John Knowles and I can see the comparison but I think more people would relate to this book. ( )
  gypsysmom | Aug 22, 2016 |
I've heard this book compared to A Separate Peace. I didn't like that book very much but I can appreciate the similarities: friendship among rich kids subtly turns sour and even violent in an academic environment. Honestly, there isn't much more to it than that. Our narrator joins an odd clique in college made up of people who study ancient Greek under a particularly charismatic professor, though that professor's influence isn't all that pervasive, really. A lot of key information shows up whenever it's convenient, like "oh by the way, Bunny took an afternoon walk every day, which is important but was never mentioned in the last hundred pages because I didn't think of it until just now." Perhaps the idea behind this was realism, that those sorts of foreshadowing details don't occur to someone sharing their memories (as opposed to, say, writing a movie script), but it made the story feel haphazard. Mostly I was kind of bored. None of the characters were all that likable, and very few of the scenes contributed to the plot or character development. Any tragedy carried no weight because the narrator didn't seem to care one way or the other. Basically, I read it because I'd heard it was good not from friends, but from random internet book lists. Clearly I need to go elsewhere for my recommendations.

A note on the audio: This is read by the author, a strange choice given that the narrator and most of the characters are all male. It took me a little while to figure that out. ( )
  melydia | Jul 29, 2016 |
Excellent! ( )
  ChrisWay | Jul 5, 2016 |
4 ½ stars

I actually almost gave this novel only 4 stars, but how the heck could I not give 5 stars to a book that got me to care so much for these characters and at times to even root for them?! Also, I’ve never read a story quite like this one.

After reading The Goldfinch and now this book I have to say that I am inordinately curious about the author, especially about her childhood, adolescence, and young adult years. I’d love to have a conversation with her, about her books and also about life in general. I’m impressed with her ability to think up and write such unique books, and she’s a fine writer.

By the time I got to about 100 pages from the end of this book, I wanted to immediately reread it, already knowing the entire scope of the story and its characters. However; I have my next 4 books waiting with time constraints and there are just too many other books I want to read, including the books I tend to occasionally reread.

The book is very long, with much longer chapters than I prefer. One chapter was nearly 100 pages long. Overall, I found it to be a quick read. For me it dragged only for a brief time, somewhere in the middle. The book really changes course, not just with plot and characters but even re type of genre. It started as a sort of pretentious, heavy duty Greek philosophy tome, or at least I thought so, and I was afraid it would remind me too much of being back in certain English literature courses and I might get bored or irritated. I ended up loving that part. Then it turned into what I at first thought was a rather ordinary if smart mystery post mystery and (not true) crime story. I ended up liking that part too.

Peculiar story. Peculiar characters; they’re fascinating. Given the subject, the story is surprisingly touching and full of humor. The narrator character is engaging and interesting and tells a great story.

I think it’s ideal to start the book knowing very little. I thought I knew more than I did, as I was mistaken about the details of one thing I thought would happen. That was fine with me.

Throughout there are perspicacious and entertaining observations about a variety of things including academia, intellectuals, families and family backgrounds and family secrets, new and old money, class, voyeurs of true crime, police work, drug & alcohol abuse and education, personas, appearances, friendship, mentorship, various cultural things, and the human condition. Warped sense of humor that I have, I laughed a lot. I hope that what I found humorous is what the author intended.

Great first sentence!: “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.”

I love how in the Epilogue when the reader is told what happens to many of the characters a minor cat character is included. I got a kick out of that.

Quotes that I liked:

“After all, the appeal to stop being yourself, even for a little while, is very great”

“It was like waking from a nightmare to a worse nightmare.”

Some big spoilers:

I wondered all along about Henry’s head injury and if it could have contributed to his psychopathy. I think it must have, yet all of them were a bunch of sociopaths.

I actually thought in a way that Bunny was the biggest psychopath of the bunch, and at times wanted to kill him myself. He has only a very thin veneer of charm, never caring about anyone other than himself, caring only about how he can use people, and not just by getting Henry to pay for his expenses and even before he starts his blackmail, and he’s definitely the most cruelly sadistic to others, with a knack for it, common among sociopaths.

I was surprised to find out what I did about the twins. Perhaps I’m dense and it should have been obvious.

I partially understand but I wish could understand more fully the motivations of the narrator character.

Yes, they were all unappealing and frightful people, yet I cared about them and cared what would happen to them. So in my opinion the author is brilliant!

I started reading misinformed. I thought that they all, Richard included, had killed their classics teacher. I was fine with being wrong and would have liked to go in even more ignorant than I was, easier to do when reading books when they’re brand new. The first sentence did give me a clue right away, but I still knew nothing about the first death. That was weird but after mulling it over, I could sort of believe how it could happen given these people and their circumstances.
( )
  Lisa2013 | Jun 26, 2016 |
Slowly making my way through this one. I hate, hate, hate these fucking kids. Also, do these kids actually exist in Vermont?! I've never seen them.

I can't take listening to this for more than an hour or two a day. Mainly because Tartt is narrating, and good lord, her vocal fry is grating. It's perfect for the characters, but makes me want to remove my eardrums.

ETA: Unlikable, unredeemable, unrelatable shitty, shitty humans doing shitty, shitty things. If the point was to create worthless characters living a life that I don't honestly believe exists in Vermont, then bravo. And f*ck them all. I hated these people. I hated their stories. ( )
  imahorcrux | Jun 22, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 307 (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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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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