This book. This book. This book. Before reading it, it was a book I was intimidated by and too scared to read because I thought I’d love it and didn’t want to be disappointed. But, I read it and it’s one of my favorite books of all time. Yes, I ordered The Little Friend and The Goldfinch and am anxiously awaiting their arrival.
Today I am sharing my thoughts on The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
In the 1980s, Richard Papen leaves his mundane California town behind for Hampden College in Vermont, where he hopes to study classics. The classics professor on campus is unique, only taking six students who he requires be under his complete influence. When Richard begins his studies, he is immediately enamored with Henry, Bunny, Charles, Camilla, and Francis—the other classic students. Despite their inclusion of Richard into their ranks, he believes secrets abound and tries to uncover them.
Richard, ashamed of blue collar roots, replaces the gas station his father runs for glitz and glamour and the kinds of things people assume when you say you are from California — endless sunshine, pools, wealth. Richard quickly recognizes that Henry is the leader of his new friend group. Henry is cold and seemingly unknowable, kind at moments but completely impenetrable at times. Camilla, the sole female of the group, is airy, like if reaches out to touch her she might disappear. She is the twin of Charles, who is quiet and kind to Richard, even though he holds secrets, too. Francis, oh I love Francis. Francis is seductive toward men and women alike, high-strung, but it arguably the most forthcoming with Richard. For much of the novel, I couldn’t figure out whether Richard was reliable as a narrator or not, but I loved his voice and commentary on the group.
The first line of this novel reads: “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.” And so begins an incredibly developed, extremely detailed story of how Richard comes to be involved in a murder and how the classics students go from academics to killers. For those who feel this story is slow, the last 30 pages are anything but. They move rapidly and I felt my mouth hanging open on more than one occasion.
A quote that I will remember for a long time is “beauty is terror. Whatever we find beautiful, we quiver before it.” This line is written in the context of discussing what happens when humans let of of control and inhibition and acts without any regard for morality. In this sentence, you can sense the headlong tumble down a very dark path that the academics take to explore the sentiment that life is better lived without morality and conscience.
Tartt’s writing is poignant and addicting and while this a long book, it is engrossing. Her writing reads as if from another time, long before 1992 when this book was published. The beginning moves slowly but I couldn’t put it down, eager to find out what happened. Tartt’s characters are incredibly well drawn and the story is vivid, as if it lifts on the page and becomes visible in from of you. The mark of a great book, for me, is when I want to underline dozens of lines, when the story feel unique and its own, and when I can’t get it out of my mind.
I could go on for ages, but I would rather not spoil this gem, so I recommend you read it!
Have you read it?