The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

I’ve had this book finished for a while, but I’ve been having trouble figuring out what to say about it. My friend Monica recommended it to me several times over the last year because of my love for The Likeness, which Tana French has said is partly based on The Secret History. I can definitely see the basis there, but I think I was expecting too much The Likeness and just couldn’t get behind Tartt’s story.

Tartt starts with the end, with our hero Richard Papen remembering the time he helped to kill one of his college friends, whose name is — well, was — Bunny. Lovely, yes? Papen then zooms himself back in time to tell us all about how he ended up at a small rich-kid college in Vermont, where he stumbled into a very strange learning situation, with basically one professor and five classmates studying ancient Greek. He recalls breaking slowly into the tight-knit group of five, learning all of their idiosyncrasies, and then of course helping in the murder of one of them.

The Secret History necessarily focuses hugely on the interpersonal dramas between Richard and the group and all permutations of members in the group, which is a bit slow, but it makes up the pace a bit when Bunny’s death is being investigated and the suspense kicks up. But then, and this is what really killed the book for me, that intensity dies down and we’re back to the interpersonal shenanigans. These shenanigans are certainly interesting, and I was curious to know what would happen, but after a while I just felt like I didn’t really care anymore if it meant I had to trudge through so many more pages.

I’m still not sure if I liked this book, though I can certainly say I’m glad it exists if it sparked Tana French’s writing! I think perhaps this will be another of those books that grows on me with time.

Recommendation: For the interpersonal melodrama crowd, and also anyone who gets a kick out of boarding-school-style novels.

Rating: 7/10
(A to Z Challenge, Chunkster Challenge)

2 thoughts on “The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

  1. Alison says:

    Which did you read first? I imagine that if you read The Secret History first, there's the opposite problem with The Likeness — you want to know more about everyone's complete backstory and interpersonal drama!

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