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The Secret History (1992)

by Donna Tartt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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19,455529227 (4.06)1 / 729
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 forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 497 (next | show all)
I was introduced to Donna Tartt when The Goldfinch was published. That book continues to be one of my all-time favorites. Ever since, people have been recommending I read The Secret History. I finally followed the advice and put The Secret History on hold with my local library. Approximately six months later, my hold finally came in for the audiobook on the Libby app.

The Secret History is an incredible story. I didn’t know much about the plot when I started reading, which I think best suited my experience. My personal challenge while reading The Secret History is that I kept comparing it to how much I loved The Goldfinch, and The Secret History didn’t quite rise to that level for me. I repeatedly reminded myself to manage my expectations and stop comparing one to the other. When I was able to do that, I became immersed in the story.

The story is told from the perspective of Richard Papen, a young man who leaves his home in California to attend Hampden College in Vermont. New to the area with no friends or acquaintances, Richard enrolls in the Ancient Greek program and is academically counseled by professor Julian Morrow. There are only five other students in his Greek studies class. Richard successfully makes a good impression on his peers and is cautiously brought into their close knit fold. Richard never truly seems to fit in with this group as they come from money and don’t really need an education for a future career. Richard comes from a differently world entirely.

The Secret History opens with Richard telling his story from a much later time in his life. He immediately reveals that one member of his peer group is dead. Richard then shares the development of their relationships and how one of his friends met his fate. The story continues to grow darker and more dysfunctional by the minute. It’s a very tragic novel that is exceptionally written.

As I previously mentioned, I borrowed the audiobook from my local library with the Libby app. Surprisingly, Donna Tartt narrates the audiobook and she does an excellent job. It was an additional pleasure to hear the book exactly as the author wrote the story.

I have photos and additional information that I'm unable to include here. It can all be found on my blog, in the link below.
A Book And A Dog ( )
  NatalieRiley | Nov 23, 2023 |
The Secret History is a surprising book. It tells of the secrets of a small college in Vermont, where a small clique of odd students spend their time reading the classics under the tutelage of their mysterious professor.
And doing drugs and drinking. Significant amounts of each.
Bad things happen, as they will do under these circumstances, and most of the rest of the book is taken up with how these young people deal with the bad things.
This doesn’t sound, on the first glance, very exciting, but Tartt is so good at teasing out little disasters and stories that I found myself unable to put the book down. She manages to create a creeping sense of people falling apart, of basically good people losing their way, of evil begetting evil. Richard, the main character, seems at first the most lost, but he ends up being the most stable one of the group, perhaps because things happen TO him rather than him eagerly participating in them.
It’s a high residue book- the characters will stay with me for quite a while, I think. I’d like to reread it, trying to figure out how Tartt wields her magic, but it’s too hard to do. The story is grim and sad and a bit despair-inducing, like a Greek tragedy.
Still, highly recommended. Worth the time spent .
I may have to wait a bit before reading anything more by this author, though… ( )
  Dabble58 | Nov 11, 2023 |
I recently heard the NYT book review talk about it this classic Donna Tart psychological thriller about an elite college where an unusual band of students conspire with and against each other regarding acts of murder and cover up. I though The Goldfinch was an excellent read so looked into this, her first novel. It was certainly an engaging plot and I found the narration of Richard Papen to be similar to Nick in the Great Gatsby. He wanted to be a part of the group but yet could stand back and coolly assess their strengths and weaknesses. Certainly Tart used her background of attending Bennington college as the setting for this description of the life of the privileged classics students who fall under the spell of a professor and who felt superior to others. It was news to me to hear how her peer group of writers graduated together:
Vanity Fair:"The twin forces of youth and genius, at least, were palpable in the air upon the arrival of the class of 1986, when three particular undergrads named Bret Easton Ellis, Donna Tartt,and Jonathan Lethem hit the campus, primed to flirt and flounder and follow their callings through their ensuing years at the decade’s most decadent college (which all three would later mythologize in their respective literary careers).
I also didn’t realize how current the idea of “dark academia “ is with hundreds of TicTok videos quoting from this novel.
Though I certainly found the writing smart and full of literary references, I can't say that I enjoyed it much, ghastly things done by unlikeable people and ultimately suffering for it.

She raised up on tiptoe and gave me a cool, soft kiss that tasted of Popsicles. Oh you, I thought, my heart beating fast and shallow.

In my own humorless state I failed to see anything except what I construed as certain tragic similarities between Gatsby and myself.

The swish of the oars and the hypnotic thrum of dragonflies blended with his academic monotone. Camilla, flushed and sleepy, trailed her hand in the water. Yellow birch leaves blew from the trees and drifted down to rest on the surface.

A sudden wind rustled through the birches; a gust of yellow leaves came storming down. I took a sip of my drink. If I had grown up in that house I couldn't have loved it more, couldn't have been more familiar with the creak of the swing, or the pattern of the clematis vines on the trellis, or the velvety swell of land as it faded to gray on the horizon, and the strip of highway visible—just barely—in the hills, beyond the trees. The very colors of the place had seeped into my blood: just as Hampden, in subsequent years, would always present itself immediately in my imagination in a confused whirl of white and green and red, so the country house first appeared as a glorious blur of watercolors, of ivory and lapis blue, chestnut and burnt orange and gold, separating only gradually into the boundaries of remembered objects: the house, the sky, the maple trees. But even that day, there on the porch, with Charles beside me and the smell of wood smoke in the air, it had the quality of a memory; there it was, before my eyes, and yet too beautiful to believe.

I sat on the bed during the twilight while the walls went slowly from gray to gold to black, listening to a soprano’s voice climb dizzily up and down somewhere at the other end of the hall until at last the light was completely gone, and the faraway soprano spiraled on and on in the darkness like some angel of death… I was happy in those first days as really I’d never been before, roaming like a sleepwalker, stunned and drunk with beauty. A group of red-cheeked girls playing soccer, ponytails flying… the heavy sweet smell of apples rotting on the ground and the steady thrumming of wasps around them. Commons clock tower: ivied brick, white spire, spellbound in the hazy distance. The shock of first seeing a birch tree at night, rising up in the dark as cool and slim as a ghost. ( )
  novelcommentary | Nov 7, 2023 |
The book opens with five students from a small private college in Vermont walking away from the body of a sixth, making sure they have cleared the evidence from the scene. Told from the point-of-view of Richard Papen (a transfer student from an unsupportive and less-than-wealthy family in California), this mystery is not a "whodunit" or even "howdunit" but a "whydunit". The story spools out through a haze of drugs, alcohol, sex and a Classics course in Greek as we witness the mental states of the students deteriorate under the strain of paranoia, guilt, jealousy, insecurity and self-absorption. It all adds up to a psychosis-inducing cocktail and a compelling tale as riveting as it is awful. Despite the interior dialogues of Richard and the insertion of relatively esoteric ideas (e.g., untranslated words and phrases in Greek and Latin, Ancient Greek concepts of the self, etc...), this isn't really a deep dive into the psyche of the individual or group-- so there is little emotional leverage to fully engage the reader. But I have to admit that this may be because I went in thinking that this would be a lit-fic book and started looking for meaning where perhaps none existed: There must be a reason why "Bunny" was the only one with a nickname (all others are addressed by full first names), right? These students represent archetypes, yes? What does Julian, their teacher represent? But trying to extract meaning out the story is as pointless as it is counter-productive to just enjoying the story for what it is: a remarkable debut novel from a young author (They were under thirty-years old when the book was published) and an entertaining, page-turning thriller with some surprising plot twists. ( )
  Tanya-dogearedcopy | Nov 5, 2023 |
Donna Tartt has fast become one of my favourite authors ever. Brilliant. I think I may have liked this one more than The Goldfinch, but I'm not sure that I can choose between them. ( )
  feralcreature | Oct 31, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 497 (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 (6 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
Larsen, IdaLouTranslatorsecondary 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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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 forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

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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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Penguin Australia

2 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0140167773, 0141037695


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