Sunday, 13 April 2014

Book of the Week: The Secret History

"I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. this is the only story I will ever be able to tell."

You know me. I love my books. I also love Classics, so when my friend recommended The Secret History by Donna Tartt, a book about Classics students, I knew I was going to love it from the word go. The Secret History is one of those books that I'd never heard of before, but seems to have a huge following that I missed entirely. How does that happen?! Baffling ignorance aside, I was beyond excited to delve into its pages and, despite it being a hefty 600 pages long, I managed to power through it in less than a week. It's that good.

The Secret History centres on a group of Classics students in a sleepy little Vermont town. Recluses from the rest of the campus, the misfits immerse themselves in their studies, and come to consider themselves an elite group, above the societal norms,and boring existences of their fellow students. Their studies, however, take on a life of their own, driving them to murder one of their kin. A dark tale that toys with the boundaries of morality, it gets you thinking about secrets, and how they can eat you up and drive you to do the most terrible things.

You might consider knowing about the imminent death of Bunny Corcoran to be a bit of a spoiler, but it was completely to the contrary. The prologue of the tome provides an insight into the event itself, and the majority of the pages that follow are flashbacks to the years leading up to the tragedy. For me, this was the king of all suspense builders. You know it's coming, but, reading it through the eyes of complete newcomer, Richard Papen, you have no idea how or why. I think this is probably the reason that I flew through it in such a short space of time - I was desperate to piece together the puzzle and find out what was going on beneath the surface.

Another aspect I loved, which I think might be quite a specific one (sorry guys), are all the random lines of Greek slotted into the chapters. They're planning a murder, not the type of thing one discusses in public, so when in company, they speak in Greek, using it as their kind of secret language. I studied Ancient Greek at university, so I consider them little in jokes, and I love the book all the more for it. If you too have a knowledge of Classical Greek, then you'll loves this little lexicon of tidbits. If you don't, they do nothing to take away for them story, so don't you worry!

As well as this, with such an eclectic bunch of misfit weirdos, there's bound to be a couple of gems in the mix. My favourite of the lot is Frances Abernathy, whose homosexuality both leads to a couple of humorous misunderstandings, and is cause for many a emotionally moving scene. I also happen to think that his style and sense of humour make him the character I would get along best with, had they been real people, and had they not all killed somebody. It's actually at his secluded country house that most of the mystery unfolds.

Aside from the little niggle of having epic chapters that are the same length as some small books (I need a good place to stop, damn it!), I absolutely loved this intriguing page turner. The Classical references, the sense of camaraderie in the most twisted of circumstances, and the air of dark mystery that shrouds its pages, make this more than worth the sleepless nights spent up reading. This might have been the first Donna Tartt novel I have read, but it certainly won't be the last.

Have you read The Secret History? Are you a fan of Donna Tartt? Let me know!


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  1. I like the central theme of a group of self-proclaimed elite-ists with the notion they're above societal norms and values - it's an intriguing facet of human nature to examine! Really enjoyed this review - likewise did not know the synopsis of The Secret History but that it had made quite a few waves for readers!

    Nell at And Nell Writes

    1. It is a really fascinating read! I'm going to read The Goldfinch by her next, as I think that's her most popular novel. It'll be interesting to see how it compares with this one. Xx

  2. I have never even heard of Donna Tartt. This books sounds very intriguing. I think I will give it a read at some point. I think I might have to wait till the summer holidays to embark on such a epic book, I think lots off thinking as well as reading time will go along with this one.

    Also a great review! .

    1. I hadn't, but she's won Pulitzers! Where have we been?! Yeah it's definitely not a quick read, but I'd definitely recommend, especially if you're quite academic. It's really fascinating to read about studies gone wrong! Xx