The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I read this novel in 2004 when it was published. I still can’t get it out of my mind. Once in a while I will run across someone who has also read this book and loved it, and the resulting conversation is always interesting, and sometimes bizarre.

Richard Papen is a lower-income scholarship student from a strip mall-centered California suburb who is granted a scholarship to Hampden College in rural Vermont (based on the small, pricey Bennington College in Vermont where Tartt studied). He’s thrilled to get away from his indifferent blue-collar parents and head east for a new adventure. Upon arrival at Hampden, he is befriended by an odd little group of five students who devote their studies to the Classics under the tutelage of the distant and somewhat eccentric professor Julian Morrow. This odd little group embraces Richard and he’s drawn into their bizarre world of classicism – and ultimately – murder.

I generally judge the quality of a plot and the writing by how little I can say about the book without giving away the storyline. I can’t say much here without giving this story away, except that the group is involved in a murder and the subsequent cover up involves blackmail, secrets – and another murder, this time of one of the group of five.  This is all set against the backdrop of a picture-perfect New England small town and general college life.  All of this makes for a shocking juxtaposition, which I believe is what Tartt intended.

The characters are sharply and smartly drawn. Some are hateful and others sympathetic. Richard the narrator is probably the most recognizable, while other characters have personalities that verge on the bizarre. The funeral scene of their friend is tragic, yet ridiculously humorous.  The ending of the book will be recognizable – yet shocking – at the same time.

Tartt ties in Dionysian rituals, Classics, hormone-fueled college life, and a plot and narrative that will leave you wanting more. I waited years for her next novel, only to be disappointed in The Little Friend.

I doubt you’ll be disappointed in The Secret History – check it out today!

Find this book in the catalog.

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One Response to “The Secret History by Donna Tartt”

  1. Bittersweet by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore | Wake County Libraries "Book a Day" Staff Pick Says:

    […] who have read The Secret History by Donna Tartt always seem to be looking for a read-alike. That’s no easy feat, as Tartt’s […]

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