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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Donna Tartt

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11,089286253 (4.09)557
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)

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» See also 557 mentions

English (264)  Dutch (7)  French (5)  Swedish (4)  Portuguese (1)  Spanish (1)  Norwegian (1)  All languages (283)
Showing 1-5 of 264 (next | show all)
In the opening lines of this novel, you know that Bunny is murdered. The story unwinds as you learn how it came about and how it impacts the lives of those involved. Set in a snooty New England college, the story focuses on a handful of closely knit students who are studying classical Greek with the famous and charismatic professor, Julian. There is Richard, the narrator, always observing, often missing the inner workings of the relationships among the others, always wanting to belong. Brilliant, remote and manipulative Henry. Wealthy Francis. The deeply intertwined twins, Charles and Camilla (almost everyone seems to be in love with her, the only girl in the group). And Bunny, who is so obnoxious it is hardly surprising that he becomes a victim. All of the characters are deeply faulted, often alienating characters. It is not so much that they develop, as that they are revealed through Richard's eyes.

Donna Tartt takes her time, and sometimes I was impatient for the plot to move along. There is a great deal of Greek reference which, obviously, is intended as context for the characters, but I found overdone to the point of being intrusive.

I was one of those who like The Goldfinch and see this earlier novel as groundwork for character development and intrigue. ( )
  bookfest | Mar 20, 2015 |
I can't remember the last time I stayed up till the wee hours "just one more page"ing my way through a book I couldn't put down, but I did just that with this one! I love it when an author takes a beloved trope or well-worn literary cliche and examines it from a new angle - in this case, it's the Robin Williams-esque beloved-by-students-loathed-by-administration eccentric teacher with an emotional hold over a small group of students, viewed from a more sinister angle. It's about groupthink and herd mentality, it's about smalltown politics, it's about family politics and coming of age, and really, it's about a bunch of self-absorbed, affluent teenagers who kill someone and try to cover it up. It's appealing in that Gone Girl sense but also in that The Great Gatsby sense. I can't wait to read more of Tartt's writing! ( )
  okrysmastree | Mar 1, 2015 |
A book club selection that I probably would not have found on my own. I was intrigued by the concept of an "inverted mystery" -- not a whodunit, but a whydunit. I'll have to hold off on my final opinion after giving it more thought. My initial impulse is that the story didn't live up to my intrigue-driven interest. My initial reaction is that it is a two-star book primarily because the characters are so distasteful -- spoiled, drunk, drugged supposed-intellectuals, but that's not a fair evaluation of the book/story, the plot development, character development, etc....

Stay-tuned. ( )
  olongbourn | Mar 1, 2015 |
The first two-thirds of The Secret History are suspenseful, mysterious, and intriguing, then it drops off. The final third drags and follows a pattern of 1) a conversation that reveals some lurid secret, 2) binge-drinking/drug use, 3) repeat to end. This could be interesting if the characters really went off the rails, but it didn't read as though they were really unraveling or grappling with what they'd done. They were drinking too much and doing drugs from the start and none of them seem particularly remorseful - just scared of getting caught.

The pressure of getting found out is what they were cracking under, not that...idk, murdering your friend is probably a very difficult thing to cope with (but then again, maybe not, if that friend is Bunny). And I didn't really care either way if they got caught. I didn't care about them, I didn't care about Bunny (or the farmer), and Tartt never really prompts the reader to think about the morality of it all or what's at stake. The character's are never REALLY at risk of losing everything, or at least I never got that sense. So what's Tartt's point? I'm not sure.

I also couldn't peg the time period. The dialogue is the main reason this was so difficult. They all called each other "sport" and "old boy" and "son". I get that they're out of touch with the world around them because they're so involved with the classics and are so very rich. But it was so very distracting and prevented me from really visualizing the scene at Hampden. I kept thinking: When are we? Do rich people really talk like this? They're supposed to be in college? Stop talking like Jay Gatsby. Judy was the only believable college student in the whole book, and even she was a caricature, and a peripheral character to boot.

The characters never quite "got there". I'm not sure if we were supposed to hate them, admire them, fear them, envy them. Everyone likes a good villain, but they didn't feel particularly villainous. They never felt truly evil (except maybe Henry) or frightening , just entitled and beyond reproach. And aggravating. Maybe that's the point, but again, Tartt doesn't really bring us to a discussion on morality, good, evil, and the mundane.

One last thing - the bacchanal. I kept waiting for more on that other than the really vague and reluctant descriptions she gave us. I'm not sure why she left such a pivotal and wild event so obscured. Why even include a bacchanal if you're not going to get into it? Not necessarily the details of how they reached that level of ecstasy or transcendence (or whatever you want to call it), but what it was like, how belief fits in (other than that you need to truly believe...whatever that means), and how that belief system allows them to justify the chain of events that the bacchanal kicks off.

All that said, I actually did like it. It had shortcomings, sure, but in all I had fun reading it and will likely read other work by Tartt in the future. I'm sure there are structural techniques I'm overlooking and nods to Greek literature that went completely over my head. I'm pretty confident that someone who has a greater knowledge of the classics would get more out of this than I did. Still, I enjoyed it. ( )
  cattylj | Feb 28, 2015 |
After brooding in silence for nearly a decade, twenty-eight year old Richard Papen decides to share his haunting secret. In his junior year of college, he was actively involved in the murder of a classmate. Taking the reader back to the fall of the early 1970’s to a small college in Vermont, Richard Papen begins his story. "The Secret History" takes on all the characteristics of an old fashioned murder mystery.

As a new student at Hampden College, Richard is selected to participate in an exclusive and isolated group of students to study advanced Greek. The professor - Julian Morrow - is somewhat of a celebrity. He is eccentric, mysterious, and charismatic... rumored to only accept pupils from well-to-do (or well-known) families. In some ways the atmosphere and plot reminded me of "The Dead Poets Society"... secretive, with a cult- like magnetism, but a lot more lethal.
If you are looking for an action-packed fast-paced drama, this book will definitely disappoint you. Instead, "The Secret History" is a long, intimate tale of psychological intrigue and suspense. You will read about the numbing fear of being exposed for participating in the plot of a murder, the paranoia of wondering if all those involved will keep their mouths quiet, and the terror of realizing the vulnerable situation of becoming a scapegoat… or even worse… another victim.

As the plot unwinds, with each new revelation, more questions arise. In speaking about fate, Professor Morrow makes a statement, “the country people who live around me are fascinating because their lives are so closely bound to fate that they really are predestined. But, I’m afraid my students are never very interesting to me because I always know exactly what they’re going to do.” Could he possibly know about the murder? Could he have foreseen the outcome of his mythological experimentations?

Then add to the mix the campus drinking parties... the weekly Friday night gathering, and a bash called “Thirsty Thursday”... and the eclectic cast of characters: the campus drug dealer, Judy Poovey the quad party girl, and of course the other 5 students from the Greek class. The most memorable character is the murder victim - Edmund (Bunny) Corcoran - an arrogant jerk who was on everyone’s nerves including mine. Donna Tartt definitely excels at character development.

And one last thing. You wouldn’t expect a book like this to have much humor, but several scenes were laugh-out-loud funny. You’ll surely enjoy the way everyone on campus puts their own spin on critical events which adds a nice touch of humorous satire. ( )
1 vote LadyLo | Feb 5, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 264 (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 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)

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