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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History (original 1992; edition 1993)

by Donna Tartt

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12,334334205 (4.08)614
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 614 mentions

English (311)  Dutch (9)  Swedish (5)  French (5)  Portuguese (1)  Norwegian (1)  Spanish (1)  Italian (1)  All (334)
Showing 1-5 of 311 (next | show all)
3.5-A bit verbose for my tastes. Same story could have been told in fewer words and still have possessed the same meaning and elicited the same emotional response. ( )
  Heather_Brock | Nov 23, 2016 |
I think The Secret History is always going to be an adolescent cult classic, because being an adolescent and then coming out of it metaphorically happens somewhat in the way this story occurs.

Romanticising the way people are, being "blind" to their flaws; the idealistic fantasy of being part of an exclusive, eccentrically intelligent group; the feeling of being wild, invincible, on top of the world.

—— then. Swiftly, we plunge headlong into reality. Trying to live classically fantastical in a world that is more "phenomenal" than "sublime" leads to consequences that result in the deterioration of illusions; layer by layer, until all that remains is the kind of oppressive and bleary darkness that submerges tiny New England schools on rainy autumn nights where the fog is so heavy that other humans are just distant hazy shadows and we stand isolated in the midst of the atmospheric terror and beauty around us.

There's this recurring theme that "beauty is terror," and that "genuine beauty is alarming." For me, there were two climaxes in the book that represented this and will stick with me: The already anticipated scene of Bunny's death - terrifyingly, indescribably beautiful - and towards the end, the unexpected tender moment between Henry and (the other character), because of its juxtaposition with a climactic act of violence. ( )
  wildrequiem | Oct 28, 2016 |
Not worth the six hundred pages. A fairly ordinarily story of a group of students getting in trouble and the ramifications. Better than Goldfinch is the best I can say about it. ( )
  ghefferon | Sep 13, 2016 |
A tragedy of classical proportions for modern readers.

I really can't say just how much I loved this book. I read [b:The Goldfinch|17333223|The Goldfinch|Donna Tartt|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1451554970s/17333223.jpg|24065147], and thought it was just so well written, nothing could be better. So when I decided to read Tartt's earlier work, I knew that I would be reading another masterpiece.

[b:The Secret History|29044|The Secret History|Donna Tartt|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1451554846s/29044.jpg|221359] centers around our main character, Richard Papen, and his new group of friends that he makes in college. What starts out as a cast of interesting characters, all with their own histories and flaws, the story quickly changes pace as you further explore the depths of human malice. The plot is not action oriented, nor is it fluffed with sweeping descriptions of the scenery. Instead, you'll get a fair balance of both. By the time you finish the book, you'll wonder if you're the same person that you were when you first picked up the book.

Tartt has this amazing ability to really go on and on about a subject without the prose getting too pedantic or hard to read. No matter what the subject is, you'll keep turning the page without even realizing where all the time is going. She just has a way with words that cannot be described; only read. And it will captivate you from the very first sentence.

"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."

Written in the first person as a character reflecting back on his story, you're immediately given the choice whether to believe the narrator. Is he reliable? Funny thing is, he himself has moments that are fuzzy in his recollection. It keeps the reader engaged, and simultaneously allows Tartt to tug at the emotional heartstrings of the reader. Likewise, there are certain events that occur that are already made clear from the start; the prologue, to be exact. So much of the reading isn't necessarily what happens (at least the major stuff), but how it happens. And that's what will grab you and pull you in.

If you're looking for a great, long read that will captivate you from beginning to end, look no further. The beauty of this book isn't only looking at the beauty of Tartt's writing, but at the darkness of what people are capable of as well.

“There is nothing wrong with the love of Beauty. But Beauty-unless she is wed to something more meaningful-is always superficial” ( )
  jms001 | Sep 10, 2016 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 311 (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 (7 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tartt, Donnaprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
de Wilde, BarbaraDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kidd, ChipDesignersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Landolfi, IdolinaTranslatorsecondary 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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2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140167773, 0141037695

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