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The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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The Secret History (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Donna Tartt

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
10,599259269 (4.09)519
Member:stgemma
Title:The Secret History
Authors:Donna Tartt
Info:Penguin Books (1993), Paperback, 660 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:books I own, academia, college, crime, murder, New England, thriller

Work details

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

  1. 141
    Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl (Eumenides)
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    The Likeness by Tana French (tangentialine, cransell, Skippy74, GodOfTheAnthill, Booksloth)
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  4. 50
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    A Traitor to Memory by Elizabeth George (DAR1102)
  11. 20
    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.
  12. 10
    The Raising by Laura Kasischke (mistydream)
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  13. 10
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    Aquila: Though it's a much nicer book.
  14. 10
    A Fatal Inversion by Barbara Vine (Bookmarque)
    Bookmarque: Reminiscent because of the group of students, but this murder is more shrouded and the supporting characters more distinct.
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  16. 11
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(see all 26 recommendations)

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» See also 519 mentions

English (240)  Dutch (7)  French (5)  Swedish (3)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (258)
Showing 1-5 of 240 (next | show all)
Amazing, impossible to put down. Would recommend this to anyone/everyone. ( )
  Tilda.Tilds | Jul 23, 2014 |
I have heard about this book for what feels like ages: highly literate friends of mine shocked and stunned when I told them I hadn't read it; many who plant Proust and Woolf regularly on their top ten lists would also place this book on their top ten list of both contemporary and all-time favorite novels; etcetera. I feel like I've owned a copy of this book forever, and it was a wonderfully compelling read—almost addictive in its prose, its characterizations, its unrivaled setting of mood. Tartt is a master of ambience, and The Secret History is less what one reviewer below calls it—something along the lines of a first-time novelist writing a long book to pack everything she wants in, to show her talent off, and so on—and much more a long, tedious, and claustrophobic study in the ominous. It can be downright uncomfortable to read this novel because of Tartt's expert use of mood and her control of the narrative through the first-person narration and her juggling of temporalities throughout. Structurally, this is a very sound and very wise book; I actually thought that one of the long chapters toward end (about three-quarters of the way through the book) was an oversight on Tartt's part, but, on thinking it over a bit more with this idea of the mood she's trying to set and alter slightly as the novel progresses, this actually works wonderfully. (I'm not saying which chapter because the location and events would be a major plot spoiler.) This is less a novel about plot—we learn what happens, for the most part, on page one—than it is a novel about the psychological depths of others as viewed by one very biased narrator. For that alone, it's well worth reading as a study in psychological realism and depth; coupled with the strange, ominous, and often creepy mood Tartt continues throughout, it's a compelling and masterful read. It's hard to believe this is a first novel, and I can well believe the immense pressure Tartt felt in writing her second which I look forward to reading soon. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
I have heard about this book for what feels like ages: highly literate friends of mine shocked and stunned when I told them I hadn't read it; many who plant Proust and Woolf regularly on their top ten lists would also place this book on their top ten list of both contemporary and all-time favorite novels; etcetera. I feel like I've owned a copy of this book forever, and it was a wonderfully compelling read—almost addictive in its prose, its characterizations, its unrivaled setting of mood. Tartt is a master of ambience, and The Secret History is less what one reviewer below calls it—something along the lines of a first-time novelist writing a long book to pack everything she wants in, to show her talent off, and so on—and much more a long, tedious, and claustrophobic study in the ominous. It can be downright uncomfortable to read this novel because of Tartt's expert use of mood and her control of the narrative through the first-person narration and her juggling of temporalities throughout. Structurally, this is a very sound and very wise book; I actually thought that one of the long chapters toward end (about three-quarters of the way through the book) was an oversight on Tartt's part, but, on thinking it over a bit more with this idea of the mood she's trying to set and alter slightly as the novel progresses, this actually works wonderfully. (I'm not saying which chapter because the location and events would be a major plot spoiler.) This is less a novel about plot—we learn what happens, for the most part, on page one—than it is a novel about the psychological depths of others as viewed by one very biased narrator. For that alone, it's well worth reading as a study in psychological realism and depth; coupled with the strange, ominous, and often creepy mood Tartt continues throughout, it's a compelling and masterful read. It's hard to believe this is a first novel, and I can well believe the immense pressure Tartt felt in writing her second which I look forward to reading soon. ( )
  proustitute | Jul 17, 2014 |
I attended a liberal arts school in the late sixties and early seventies, so I knew people who fit the mold of the main characters in The Secret History: reasonably smart, from well to do families, and generally acting as if our interests were less valuable than theirs. I also knew a few students who were more interested in drugs and alcohol than anything else the university had to offer, including their classes. So Donna Tartt’s setup worked well for me. But in real life I didn’t get to follow the lives of those people as closely as I did in The Secret History where I found their self-centered reactions to the complex situation believable. I also found myself pulling for people who had done some horrible things.

The Secret History is a crime novel from the point of view of one of the criminals. That’s clear from the beginning, so this isn’t a spoiler. Richard Papen is an impulsive young man with a family that doesn’t want him around. He picks his college for arbitrary reasons and picks his major because overcoming the challenge of signing up for Greek is more important than thinking of his future. Right away we see his decisions are a little edgy, but we like and sympathize with him. I find Richard very believable in the context of the novel. I know some reviewers have felt Tartt’s male characters are not male enough. Perhaps Richard thought a little too much about what he and his friends were wearing, but other than that I had no trouble with his masculinity.

Henry Winter and Bunny Corcoran are the two most interesting characters in the book. In a way they flip roles over the course of the book. Although, there are other things going on that push them in unique directions. I can't say much more than that without revealing the plot. Camilla and Charles are interesting in a very broad way, yet I didn't feel I got to know them as well as the other students of Julian Morrow. And every college has its Judy Pooveys, who might be attracted to someone or interested in something that's going on, but always too stoned to care. The teacher, Julian, is also fascinating because he epitomizes the concept of a college environment as a sanctuary where ideas can grow and anything can be discussed, but he has been living this ideal for so long he's lost all concept of the way events stimulated by his ideas can affect him. As the story unfurls, his reactions are wonderful.

The main characters in The Secret History meet as students in a Greek class. This, however, is unlike any language class I ever took. It's more about thinking and philosophy than it is about communication or reading. Here's a quote about that subject. Richard Papen is reflecting on something Julian Morrow has taught him:

The value of Greek prose composition, he said, was not that it gave one any particular facility in the language that could not be gained as easily by other methods but that if done properly, off the top of one's head, it taught one to think in Greek. One's thought patterns become different, he said, when forced into the confines of a rigid and unfamiliar tongue. Certain common ideas become inexpressible; other, previously undreamt-of ones spring to life, finding miraculous new articulation.

It seems like a wonderful thing, to gain a new way of thinking, but it depends on what the new ideas are.

What I liked the most about the book was the slow way Donna Tartt built her plot, carefully giving her readers enough information about her characters to believe the plot was progressing. I read this book and I’m currently listening to the audio of Tartt’s latest novel, The Goldfinch. I waited to finish this one before starting The Goldfinch. They aren’t linked in any way, so the order doesn’t matter, but the style is similar. I’m glad I didn’t try to read them both at the same time. But they are both great reads.

Steve Lindahl – author of Motherless Soul and White Horse Regressions ( )
1 vote SteveLindahl | Jun 27, 2014 |
An enjoyable read, I was hooked immediately by the opening description Tartt pens: an idyllic, venerable but mysterious, college off the East Coast, characterized by an esteemed professor and secret clique of cool kids studying Greek, a language steeped in art, tragedy, sacrifice, and Gods.

At times i thought this book would evolve into a fantastical story, but it eventually turns into a drama of consequence and choice, complicity and going along with the crowd, being an outsider and the infatuation that can inspire: in the end, they are just dumb kids playing at magic.

A pretty good read, though kinda forgettable. ( )
  kbullfrog | Jun 17, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 240 (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!
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Information from the German Common Knowledge. Edit to localize it to the English one.
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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...
Haiku summary

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 Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:42:15 -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)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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