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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Donna Tartt

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11,312299246 (4.09)570
Title:The Secret History
Authors:Donna Tartt
Info:Penguin Books (1993), Paperback, 660 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:books I own, academia, college, crime, murder, New England, thriller

Work details

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)

Recently added byrmb100, GeePee29, Lolanta, LisaDue, private library, supercoldd, Jernsaksa, SueB51, VerwaalvanderLinden
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» See also 570 mentions

English (279)  Dutch (8)  French (5)  Swedish (4)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (299)
Showing 1-5 of 279 (next | show all)

I'm giving this three stars, even though I am giving up reading it at page 172, because I very much enjoyed the first 150 odd pages. I found the narrator, Richard, unlikeable, but in a good way; I wanted to find out how he would continue to conceal his unremarkable past and his poverty. I enjoyed the story of his winter spent in the warehouse with the hole in the roof and I liked the style of writing generally. But... the premise that it appears the rest of the book will be based on seems to me so ridiculous that I can't bring myself to keep going. It is not just that I don't think roaming about in a group orgy/pre-civilised/elevated/Dionysiac frenzy is a good idea or morally acceptable, but I simply didn't find it believable in the context of the story. As Henry was describing what happened, I didn't believe him. (They all spent parts of weekends attempting to enter this state at Francis' aunt's house while Richard was there with out him knowing (why even invite him??) and then when they allegedly achieve this state they manage to murder some one without quite knowing how, all pull themselves together suddenly and scurry off home?) I don't buy it. Maybe it is entirely possible, but if the narration can't convince me, then it has failed...

Also, Charles, Camilla and Francis seemed to have no real personalities (and Julian not much). I couldn't work out when exactly this was supposed to be set - in some ways it seemed timeless. I just don't want to find out about how they killed Bunny (although I am mildly curious about which four of them it was!). ( )
  pgchuis | Aug 23, 2015 |
In the past I've always held to the conviction that once you start a book you have to stay with it to the end, no matter how torturous that may be. In more recent times, I've decided that there are too many books and my time is valuable, so I'm willing to let one go every now and then. 100 pages into The Secret History I was on the fence feeling very annoyed with the author whose most recent book won the Pulitzer Prize. How could a Pulitzer Prize winning author leave me feeling baffled about the characters when I was nearly 25% of the way through?

Richard is the narrator, a transfer student to a New England college attended mostly by students from wealthy families. Given Richard's insecurities I could understand his admiration of and desire to be a part of the Greek History circle of five, but honestly I just couldn't get a sense of these characters. As I read this book I couldn't see these characters in my mind. In many ways they were too much alike. I kept confusing Charles and Francis even though Francis was clearly homosexual. Another major annoyance for me was the idea that a group of five students could hi-jack a major and monopolize a professor to the exclusion of everyone else. Really? What school confers degrees for a program where five students are hand-picked by a professor and said students can take virtually all of their classes with that one professor? This didn't go over well on my reality meter.

My major criticism is that nothing really happens in the first 100 pages except a failed attempt at character development. We gain a sense that Henry controls the group, Bunny has no money, drinking and drugs are rampant, and Francis' country home is the bomb. Aside from that I felt like I was trudging through a deep Vermont snow trying to get to something more interesting. Then around page 100 and continuing through to page 400 the story finally takes off. The crime(s) happens. The investigation ensures. The characters fall to pieces over their inability to justify what they have done. We're finally presented with something worth reading, a finely crafted plot that makes the book hard to put down. If I were rating the book on these 300 pages alone, I would give it 5 stars. Tartt's talent finally shines through. Then she has to ruin it by dragging me through 100 more pages of the character's mental breakdowns. I understand what she was trying to do, but she took too long to do it. After a while, as in the beginning, it became too repetitive and detracted from the central plot.

Tartt has talent. Part of me feels like there may be some genius writing in this book that I could uncover if I took a little more time to think about it. This was her first book, and maybe I'm being too critical, but you can't expect a reader to stick it out for 100 pages waiting for the good stuff. I did, however, and I'm glad I did. I wish I could give a higher rating. ( )
  valorrmac | Aug 19, 2015 |
Call me weak of the heart, but I rarely reach for books that contain over five-hundred pages, so I’m not entirely sure what came over me when I read The Secret History, but it was a little like love at first sight. Why, I do not know.

This gripping, masterpiece of a novel is a little like Dead Poets Society gone wrong. We are led by the narration of our protagonist, Richard, who is a young Californian male lacking ambition. Dropping his plans of a medical career, he enrolls in a Vermont college at which a peculiar group of young students catch his attention. Richard eventually befriends these four boys and one girl, with their antiquated modes of dress and hushed discussions about classical topics, who, he soon learns, are under the wing of a single classics professor named Julian. Julian’s questionable teaching methods have won him a reputation across campus, yet within the walls of his office his students are taken into a world that completely dissolves the boundaries of everyday existence.

The crux of the story lies in a grave error that takes place when some of these “clever, eccentric misfits” – as the blurb states – “go beyond the boundaries of normal morality”. Yet this slippage is not a slow descent like the summary promises, but rather a violent crumbling of their ethics and even sanity as they frantically attempt to mend the problem.

This debut novel of Donna Tartt is exemplary in its lyricism and demonstrates her ability to masterfully hold the reins of pace over so many pages. Albeit psychologically thrilling, its true beauty rests in its weaving of the elements of the real, the fantasy, the dark, and the dramatic in a mesmerizing novel that effortlessly wins over the hearts of those who celebrate art in its finest form. ( )
  themythbookshelf | Aug 8, 2015 |
quit at 75 pages ( )
  khumphreys2009 | Jul 9, 2015 |
Absolutely brilliant. ( )
  novewong | Jul 8, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 279 (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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Come then, and let us pass a leisure hour in storytelling, and our story shall be the education of our heroes.
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.
Unzeitgemässe Betrachtungen
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?
...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.
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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)

(summary from another edition)

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