Not Enough Bookshelves: The Secret History

Monday, 7 April 2008

The Secret History

The Secret History – Donna Tartt

This is story that catches you with the first line

“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 does not let go. It is gripping, a real page turner but also beautifully written.

It is the story of Richard, a university student freshly arrived to the New England College of Hampden. He is disenchanted with his California upbringing and longs to be someone else. Intrigued by a group of students who study Greek, he manages to swap into their classes. He falls in love with all of them and the way of life they represent, which he aspire to. As he learns more about them and the secret that binds them, he begins to see they are not quite what he first thought.

The story races along and the tension mounts with each page but dialogue and description are never sacrificed to pace. Donna Tatt is truly talented at painting pictures with words.

As I lay on my bed, staring at a pool of white moonlight on the wooden floor, a gust of wind blew the curtains out, long and pale as ghosts.”

Richard’s voice is captured so deftly that I never lost sympathy with him despite some of his less than pleasant actions. As the full horror of what he has been apart of creeps up on him he begins to see how he’s own neediness, lack of self worth and disposition “My own tendency to try and make intersting people good” allowed him to be manipulated.

The mystery and the true nature of Richard’s new friends and their relationships with each other are slowly revealed amid hints and over heard conversations. So for a while you aren’t quite sure what to believe about who, this increases the tension.

I really did enjoy the book it is not only a good story but it really makes you think about people, their actions, the faces they present to the world and how well we can ever truly know another person.


  1. I really loved The Secret History, too; it’s a pretty impressive first novel. I’m actually reticent to pick up Donna Tartt’s follow-up. I’ve heard that it doesn’t live up to the promise of The Secret History, and I don’t want to tarnish my opinion of her first novel by comparing it to (what others have said is) a subpar effort.


  2. I came to this book very late, years after it had been published and couldn’t believe how I’d managed to miss it. Have you read her second novel, ‘The Little Friend’? I’ve heard it’s not as good and haven’t started it for fear of being disappointed after ‘The Secret History’.


  3. Chayenne – I read The Litte Friend first but back when it came out and it is not nearly as good as The Secret History.
    TT – I know I have no idea how I left it so long to read this. So many books so little time eh?


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