Paul Bryant's Reviews > The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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Nov 18, 2007

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Apparently the New York Times described The Secret History as "Powerful...Enthralling...A ferociously well-paced entertainment" and Time said "A smart, craftsman-like, viscerally compelling novel."

Very funny, guys, ha ha and all that. They're such jolly jokesters. They'll have you believing anything. The Secret History is complete tripe - no, that's harsh, let me put it another way - it's COMPLETE TRIPE - oh dear, this keyboard has a mind of its own! and is very firm about its opinions too! - but this book is also the literary equivalent of novocaine and it's just so cozy.


Oooh Donna. Just another bowl of bananas and custard and a whopping plateful of classical references and allusions; and a murder. And ladle on all the upper class schmooze for us. You knowwwwww what I like! Tickle my tootsies and call me something Latin...ooooh.

This book puts you in the kind of trance where you don't mind that The Secret History is mercilessly ripped off from Brideshead Revisited. Well, I didn't mind at all because I hadn't read Brideshead Revisited then, which I suspect most of young Donna's readers hadn't either and I further suspect the reviewers of The New York Times and Time hadn't. Or they'd have run her out of town on a rail, if that still happens (I haven't seen it done for years). Oh Donna, oh Donna how does that old song go?

I once had a girl, or should I say, she once had me.

Three stars though! Sometimes it's fun to be fooled.
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02/03/2016 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-50 of 55) (55 new)

message 1: by Rachel (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:49PM) (new)

Rachel I loved this book when I was a teenager. Since then I have been surprised to discover that it is quite popular among grown-ups as well. It is just my hazy recollection, or is it really silly?

message 2: by Paul (last edited Aug 25, 2016 01:49PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant It is silly but it creates a trancelike effect like walking along a straight road in the softly falling snow for several miles.

message 3: by Velvetink (new) - added it

Velvetink I discovered I had this in my unread stacks today. Think it's going back to the bottom.

message 4: by Ruth (new) - rated it 1 star

Ruth I read it about 5 years ago. Memorable enough so that I can't remember a thing about it.

Tracy silly but wonderful! i encourage everyone to read it!

[Name Redacted] I took a Greek & Latin lit. class in high school and this book became one of the standing jokes in it.

message 7: by Cecily (new)

Cecily I've read Brideshead several times, but not this. Maybe I won't bother now.

Alison Forde Cecily wrote: "I've read Brideshead several times, but not this. Maybe I won't bother now."

I really like the Secret history - one of my favourite books! Perhaps the comparison from Brideshead is about a poor student who falls in whith a bunch of rich students, but it is nevertheless an absolutely gripping atmospheric read, entertaining and quite funny. I wouldn't skip it on the basis of this review.

message 9: by Kate (new) - rated it 1 star

Kate A former coworker highly recommended this to me. I read it-- thought it was utter tripe. "Standing jokes" about it I can understand, but what's the appeal?
(My coworker said he liked it because one of the unsavory characters would remind me of another coworker we disliked-- but it didn't.)

message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant I'll leave others to defend this one. I think it's a book you should only read when you have a bad cold.

message 11: by Timbo (last edited Oct 25, 2013 09:10AM) (new)

Timbo I am truly shocked that anyone any age etc could tolerate reading more than a few pages of this empty vessel making a horrible noise.

Prakriti It is one of my favourite books, and the bit about creating a trance like atmosphere is what I adore about it, like The Virgin Suicides. It is sad that you have to trash this.

message 13: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Three stars is good! (For me, anyway)

Prakriti Oh come now, it is not about the number of stars. You mention it is COMPLETE TRIPE!! For a book that you seem to have enjoyed quite much.

Also, since it seems to be an important issue on this thread, I am 32.

message 15: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant is it not possible to have a good time reading/listening to/watching complete tripe? I do this frequently...

message 16: by Maya (new) - rated it 5 stars

Maya Panika Well gosh. Each to their own I suppose. I expect I hate some books you love, too. I found this a superbly well written, atmospheric, delicious delight of a book. It's still one of my favourites.
Why three stars for a book you appear to hate so much?

Bobby Bermea "Sometimes it's fun to be fooled." AB-SO-F%$$##-LUTELY!

message 18: by Nick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nick Baam "...that old song"?? Here's the rule on that: it's not an old song if you bought the album.
Some review, Paul.

Elizabeth Seriously - what did people like about this book? I felt the atmosphere lacked crucial elements like air. It was boring and stuffy and lacking originality.

message 20: by Nora (new)

Nora Paul, your review caught my attention. Snidely written and well done. :)

message 21: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant thanks Nora!

message 22: by Nora (new)

Nora Is it reminiscent of Dead Poets Society?

message 23: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant yes, and there's something else I particularly dislike... coincidence? No!

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

i'm currently reading this book, and however I cannot yet say if I do agree or not with your whole review, I have indeed seen a lot of Brideshead Revisited inspirations. Not only in the characters but in the whole theme of the novel. Guilt and human remorse.

message 25: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant I am maybe changing my mind a little bit about the copying-from-previou-classics aspect of this. I'm currently reading a book which advertises itself as a rewrite of The Old Wives' Tale - maybe this is becoming an acknowledged thing you're allowed to do.

message 26: by Joell (new)

Joell As I was reading the first 91 pages, I kept thinking of Brideshead Revisited. Then I read the ending and some of the reviews here. It's not a book that I want to continue--I'd rather re-read Waugh. I read all of The Goldfinch, but I was tempted to abandon that one when I got to the section in Vegas.

message 27: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Donna is divisive! No longer tempting to me, but I ought to go to Waugh again.

message 28: by Nick (new) - rated it 4 stars

Nick Baam Louisa wrote: "I haven't read this particular book by Donna, but I did give The Goldfinch a go, thanks to many raving reviews it was getting, and I was severely disappointed. I do feel the woman loves the sound o..."

Yes, that's the problem I had w The Secret History.

Alicia I can't find the similarity with brideshead revisited. Obviously you haven't read it.

message 30: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Hi Alicia - please take a look at my review of Brideshead Revisited:

message 31: by Fos (new) - rated it 3 stars

Fos Brilliantly said!

Nicholas Gunter Actually someone from the Times compared the voice of the story to Brideshead Revisited.

Also, she wrote this while she was in college. Brilliant writing and excellent understanding of human interaction, in my opinion.

When you say tripe, do you mean it was entirely unimportant writing to you? As in it added nothing to your life? Or that the writing itself was nothing new/trite/banal? Im confused as to how important it is that I know you found this book unimportant on a personal level.

message 33: by [deleted user] (last edited Mar 22, 2015 10:01AM) (new)

The newest post on this review has reminded me that when I wrote here the first time, I hadn't finished the book. Now, I've read The Secret History nearly as many times as I've read any of my other favourite books. It's filled with subtleties and connotations, a bit of research to those who are not familiar with the least bit of ancient greek and roman culture, and it's a tremendously fun reading, with a lot of space given by the author to allow the reader to come up with their own theories.

If it has inspirations on Brideshead Revisited? YES, it has. If you'll regret reading it if you've read Brideshead Revisited? NO. If you've enjoyed how the characters sunk deep in guilt and their personalities became decadent and twisted and you are able to see some really dark pits of the human soul, in any of the books, then you'll like the other. If you've loved to hate either Charles or Richard, then you'll love to hate the other.

Nicholas Gunter Agreed, T. I studied Latin in high school and for a bit in college. I thought it was just excellent! I love well informed Tartt is on any subject about which she writes.

message 35: by Lisa (new) - rated it 1 star

Lisa Wish I had read this review before spending a weekend (with a bad cold, though)trying to figure out why the book has to hide the fact that it is complete TRIPE behind some rather lame references to Dante and others. I can't even say I hadn't read Brideshead Revisited before, because I had. And I loved that one, for sure.

message 36: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant hmmm... this is a very mean review. But so justified!

message 37: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant thanks Sabah - you're in luck, there's a million of em right here!

message 38: by Lex (new) - rated it 3 stars

Lex This reveiw had me LOLing. Could not agree more. I couldn't NOT finish it, and yet I really wanted it to be over almost as soon as it started.

message 39: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant like a literary Big Mac then!

message 40: by Rod (new)

Rod You had a Ritchie Valens reference and a Big Bopper reference; you really should have had a Buddy Holly reference to complete the trinity.

message 41: by Speranza (new) - added it

Speranza There's not many things that can provide for great entertainment, time and time again, the way your reviews do. And most of them are spot on, too.

message 42: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant wow, thanks! in 2 hours I have to be at the dentist but you have cheered me up

message 43: by Alice (new) - rated it 1 star

Alice I called a friend and said, "I'm on about page 25. I have no background in philosophy and this is extremely tedious. She is such an intellectual show-off. Will it EVER go anywhere?"
"Stay with it," my friend suggested, so I read another ten pages.
I think not.

message 44: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant quite so. You may however wish to read Brideshead Revisited instead.

message 45: by Alice (new) - rated it 1 star

Alice After reading other's reviews here, I wanted to add that I read and reviewed "The Goldfinch (up to the last awful 100 pages), which I thought was Dickens' "Great Expectations" updated. Does she do this intentionally?

message 46: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant well, Clueless was an update of Emma, and A Thousand Acres was an update of King Lear, so people do like to reboot old stories. But they usually say that that's what they're doing.

message 47: by Alice (last edited Aug 25, 2016 03:26PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Alice Paul wrote: "quite so. You may however wish to read Brideshead Revisited instead."

I'm not great at "revisiting" especially having seen the show speeded up. Smoke/drink/smoke/drink/smoke/drink... It can never be the same again!

message 48: by Alice (new) - rated it 1 star

Alice Paul wrote: "well, Clueless was an update of Emma, and A Thousand Acres was an update of King Lear, so people do like to reboot old stories. But they usually say that that's what they're doing."

Thought perhaps she said she "reboots" in an interview. I might be more forgiving.

message 49: by Dianne (new)

Dianne Warner Had you actually read the's GREEK, not Latin. Oh well.. you do read Brideshead Revisited...or maybe you caught it on TV.

message 50: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Bryant Hi Dianne - it appears you're objecting to my mockery "Tickle my tootsies and call me something Latin". I do admit this is a rather high-handed review. But I did read this book all the way through and later read Brideshead Revisited all the way through too and even later saw the brilliant dramatization of BH which I recommend to everyone.

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