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The Secret History

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  466,600 ratings  ·  41,963 reviews
Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last—i ...more
Paperback, First Vintage Contemporary Edition , 559 pages
Published April 13th 2004 by Vintage (first published September 16th 1992)
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Shona It occurred to me halfway through that I was picturing him as Arthur the Aardvark from the 90s children's TV show... presumably Bunny had become Arthu…moreIt occurred to me halfway through that I was picturing him as Arthur the Aardvark from the 90s children's TV show... presumably Bunny had become Arthur's rabbit friend Buster in my mind, and then each of the characters matched up to one in the show...(less)
This question contains spoilers... (view spoiler)
Cari It is no coincidence that Julian chose kids without any parental guidance and was very keen on not having any outside supervision (ie. other faculty i…moreIt is no coincidence that Julian chose kids without any parental guidance and was very keen on not having any outside supervision (ie. other faculty involved). That is never a sign of good intentions. He wanted a group of vulnerable kids to influence without any questioning.
Julian was calculating, self-absorbed and cruel. When he described the mysteries of the bacchanal so alluringly, I understood it as an invitation to explore this idea. That part when he and Henry are talking about "necessary" things is quite suspect. I am sure Julian encouraged Henry to pursue a bacchanal by any means necessary, while at the same time maintaining his saintly persona. If you tell a group of impressionable people to have a bacchanal in the way the followers of Bacchus did, there is not only sex but also extreme violence involved. This Julian clearly understood. In my mind, there is no question he manipulated Henry into it.

Julian likes to play naïve and his students, truly naïve themselves, really believe things such as that Julian doesn't know that they use drugs or that someone like Bunny, who clearly was no scholar, wrote his own papers without assistance. Aside from Henry, Richard explains they didn't even know where Julian lived, that it wasn't uncommon for Julian to pretend that he didn't know them in public and that they really didn't know much about Julian. And yet, they all mistakenly believed Julian loved them. A very convenient belief cultivated by Julian so that his students would shield him from any consequences of their wrongdoing.

Then during Bunny's funeral, Julian has that moment when his façade drops for a minute and joyfully tells Henry that it is all like a Dostoyevsky novel. For someone who rejects all modernity and only finds beauty and value in the classics (of antiquity), what an odd thing to say. Of all novelists, to invoke the one who wrote "Crime and Punishment," which is also quoted in that part of the story, is not a coincidence. In that novel, a gruesome murder is carefully planned and executed. Worst of all, when Julian says the funeral reminds him of Dostoyevsky, he is clearly happy about it. At that point, in my mind, there is no doubt he knows exactly what is going on.

The moment Henry and Richard inadvertently force him to acknowledge the situation in the letter, he can no longer pretend to be oblivious and his game is over. He clearly will not be implicated and his students, spiraling out of control, are not longer useful for discreetly enacting his dark ideals, so he leaves.

The big question for me is whether he has done this before. What happened to the group of students before Richard's? Since Henry was determined to protect him (ie. the contradictory statements that Julian knew "all/not all" about the bacchanal), we will never know the full extent of his involvement. However, to me there is no doubt Julian is the mastermind behind Henry's unhinged ideas/plans. Julian chose him precisely because Henry had the charisma to make the group carry out his (Julian's) ideas.(less)
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emma
My original review of this wasn't much of anything, because I believed (and still kind of do) that everything worth saying about this book has been said.

However, there are things that I believe no one should say emerging in real time, and so contributing my likely already-expressed thoughts might counterbalance them, to some degree.

In my first foray at writing about this (which you can still see below), I focused on the immersion of it. I said I "loved" its characters, though of course I meant m
...more
Melanie
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”

I have never read anything like this book in my entire life. I laid in bed for over an hour last night upon finishing this book, just tossing and turning and thinking about everything I just consumed. I still don’t think I can put my feelings into words, but I can honestly say this book was a cathartic experience for me, and the irony of the word “catharsis” being a Greek rooted word is not lost on me, because if thi
...more
Rebecca
Sep 13, 2008 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Martine
The first paragraph of The Secret History roughly sums up the mood of the book. In it, the narrator, Richard Papen, says that he thinks his fatal flaw is 'a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs'. If you can relate to these words, chances are you'll love The Secret History. If not, you'll probably wonder what the fuss is all about. Personally, I can totally relate to these words, so I love the book. I've read it over half a dozen times, and while I do think it has its problems, I never ...more
jessica
Apr 20, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites
‘beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. quite the contrary. genuine beauty is always quite alarming.’

and oh, how alarmingly beautiful this story is, as all the best greek tragedies tend to be; full of sorrow and struggle, but often accompanied by pure loyalty and divine inspiration.

gosh. i just… i cant even right now. on the surface, this book is great. but donna tartt is an absolute goddess of writing for the sheer depth of this book. its a work of absolute brilliance.

i was never a classic
...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
First of all, if you are one of those people who dismiss a book as inherently bad simply because you "just couldn't relaaa-yeeete to aunnny of the charaaactaaaars *gum smack-smack-smack*" then do not read this book. If you can relate to anyone in this novel, then I dismiss you as inherently bad. In fact, I fucking hate you. Yes, you, because my guess is that, as a modern-day example of all the characters in this novel, you probably have a goodreads account, and read nothing but "tome-suh" and wr ...more
Adina
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1001, book-club, us
DNF at 70%

“If you love one book by a certain author it does not automatically mean you will enjoy all the author’s work” (Me, while reading The Secret History) .

Before I begin my review I have to inform you that Goldfinch is one of my favorite novels. If you want, you can see my short review here. Based on that fact, there should be no doubt in anyone’s mind of how much I love Donna Tartt’s writing. I thought it was perfect in the first novel I read by her, it kept me coming back for more eac
...more
Paul Bryant
Nov 18, 2007 rated it liked it
Shelves: novels
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! - b
...more
chan ☆
Apr 23, 2020 marked it as to-read
Shelves: on-pause, 2021
on pause
❀ annie ❀
achingly pretentious. insufferably wordy. and probably one of the best books i've ever read. i don't think i've ever wished a 600+ page book was even longer. ...more
✨ A ✨
I don't know about you, but what I strive for is finding my next great read. They're not always perfect. Sometimes they have messed up shit in them, BUT they leave me dumbfounded and in awe. Days after I find myself doing something completely mundane and unable to stop thinking about the story and the characters. That's what The Secret History did to me.

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 ab
...more
Barry Pierce
Due to my utter adoration for The Goldfinch I decided, for reasons unbeknownst to even myself, that I should give The Secret History another go. See I read it maybe four years ago, I want to say, and I wasn’t the biggest fan. And ever since then I’ve had people constantly telling me just how wrong I was about The Secret History. ‘No, no, it’s a modern classic!’ they’d say to me. Or, ‘wow it seems exactly like the type of book you’d adore.’ And they’re right, it is exactly the type of book I’d ad ...more
ELLIAS (elliasreads)
Nov 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
BEAUTY IS TERROR.

That should have been the title of this book, how each of the titular character views beauty.....and the unholy terror that comes from it. 

Spoiler Discussion Live show here : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSNew...

Imagine if someone took a simple generic thriller mystery plot but added Latin phrases, subtle Greek history and references, a study of philosophy and logic, and unlikeable, privileged, and pretentious college students— you get this dense, ironic, well crafted
...more
Joel Rochester
i wanted to love this book.
i like it, but i also have issues.

there's a lot of good things with this book, but it's equally balanced with things that i didn't like or just made me question this book.

join us for the liveshow tomorrow!
for now,
no thoughts, head empty.
...more
Zweegas
Jul 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Baba
A truly modern classic masterpiece - Tartt's first offering as a writer is this juggernaut - a descent into evil, unreliably narrated by the newest addition to a group of highly eccentric elitist misfits, who form a group around a just as eccentric classics professor at a small liberal arts college in Vermont. Within this microcosm, they are creating their own norms and in time, their own morality, which leads to a descent to evil.

A masterclass in scene setting and character development from a f
...more
Candi
"Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs."

Hot damn this book was brilliant! I’m officially joining the ranks of Donna Tartt fans. Three things happened after I finished this book: 1) I wanted to start all over again 2) I had difficulty reading the books I chose next (even though they are
...more
nostalgebraist
Mar 12, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modern-lit
Thank god it's over. I don't think I can surpass the review Nick wrote earlier tonight, but here goes . . .

The good:

--This book is well-written, at least in a certain contextless sense. There are many sentences in it (occasionally, even paragraphs) that, if taken by themselves, look like they might have been from a book worth reading.

--At least two of the central characters (I'm thinking of Bunny and Henry) are vividly portrayed and interesting figures. (Unfortunately, one of them dies halfway
...more
Eliza
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who loved The Goldfinch (and anyone else!)
2019

The fact that I STILL think about this book every other week really makes me to want to label this as my #1 favorite book. It's literally the best thing I have read up until this point. What a mind-blowing novel.
________________________________________

Re-read in 2018

Still flipping amazing.
I. Love. This. Book.
________________________________________
5/5 Stars!

EDIT:
I read this about two months ago, but I'm still thinking about it! Therefore, I bumped it up half a star, and changed my overall
...more
Joe Hill
Sep 25, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone
Someone just brought up Nietzsche’s Apollonian vs. Dionysian theory, which is described at the link below, if you are as unfamiliar as I was. http://www.geocities.com/danielmacrya...

Apparently Donna Tartt was well-versed in this theme, as it is prevalent in The Secret History. The gist of Nietzsche’s theory is that the ancient Greeks attained such a high level of culture mainly due to their personal struggle between the opposing philosophies of Apollo and Dionysus; Apollo being the god of art, a
...more
Sam
Jun 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I understand why The Secret History is loathed as much as it is loved. If I remove myself a bit from what I just read, I note implausible dialogue and somewhat unbelievable plot elements, horrifically selfish and nasty main characters, overflowing with evil, sure, but mostly with ennui and snobbery and drunkenness and poor-little-rich-people and an air of erudition that's more smokescreen than substance.

I can admit to all of that objectively. Subjectively, I feverishly read this in a day and fou
...more
Jim Fonseca
Six students at an Ivy League college latch on to an elderly professor of Greek. They create a Greek “cult” that leads to murder and, in all, the death of three people. The story is told from the point of view of the outsider in the group: he’s the only kid from the west coast and the only one on financial aid. All the misfit characters come alive, each with his (and one her) personality. The story is told methodically, step by step, and you start to feel “this could have really happened.” A gre ...more
emily ☂︎
thank god i’m in self isolation right now because i feel like i need at least 2838373 decades to recover from this book. what, in all due respect, THE FUCK???
Annet
One of my all time favorites. It's been a while since I read it, have to reread it soon. Great story, very intelligent, very fascinating, keeps you going on and on page by page until the end. Remember reading it on a camping trip in Canada! Simply brilliant. Top ten best reads ever. ...more
nemo the emo ☠️ (pagesandprozac)
ok real talk i didn't know what tf Classics was until i read this and then i thought "hey this is canny interesting" so i signed up for a classics summer school at oxford and it turned out half the people there also ended up there bc of this mcfucking book and then the professors were all like "congrats bc the selection process was even more selective bc we had loads of applicants this year" and we were all just sitting there trying to pretend that we didn't end up there because of a book about ...more
Jamie
Sep 04, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Katie McCrackin
Okay, this book. This book was a lot of fun, partially, I think, because it was written in this fashion which made determining whether this was past, present or future virtually impossible. It was very romantically written and I tend to go for that sort of thing: simple meals of tomato soup and skim milk, five college-aged students who drink tea as well as burbon, scotch and on occasion whiskey--but not with anything as muddled and middle-class as coke mixed in--no, they drink it on ice, in thic ...more
mwana
Mar 01, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to mwana by: Kyle
Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw’, that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.
For Richard, this starts after he moves from Plano, California to Hampden College. Even the name had an austere Anglican cadence, to my ear at least, which yearned hopelessly for England and was dead to the sweet dark rhythms of the lit
...more
Sanne | Booksandquills
So glad to have finally read this! I've owned this copy for a fair few years and organising a book club for it was a good push to read it (I'm afraid it would have been on my shelves for many more years to come otherwise). It was a quicker read than I expected and both fulfilled lots of the ideas I had about it (in the best way), but also surprised me in quite a few places. It was equally more gory than I thought it would be, and at the same time almost not gory enough! It immediately sucks you ...more
Arah-Lynda
And after we stood whispering in the underbrush – one last look at the body and a last look round, no dropped keys, lost glasses, everybody got everything? – and then started single file through the woods, I took one glance back through the saplings that leapt to close the path behind me. Though I remember the walk back and the first lonely flakes of snow that came drifting through the pines, remember piling gratefully into the car and starting down the road like a family on vacation, with Henry ...more
elle
posted my annotations & annotation guide for the secret history on my bookstagram! also my review.

i will probably be posting chapter by chapter reading guides on my instagram so stay tuned!

—————————

here is the very long awaited review of one of my favorite books.

i first read the secret history for class in high school, then two times after that. it is, without a doubt, always in my top 5 list of books. i’m sure i’m not special in that case, because this book is a true testament to the genius and
...more
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Donna Tartt is an American writer who received critical acclaim for her first two novels, The Secret History and The Little Friend, which have been translated into thirty languages. Tartt was the 2003 winner of the WH Smith Literary Award for The Little Friend. Her novel The Goldfinch won the Pulitzer Prize in 2014.

The daughter of Don and Taylor Tartt, she was born in Greenwood, Mississippi but r
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Articles featuring this book

The college campus has been a popular setting for books since the days of ancient Greece. In fact, Aristotle once wrote a dark academic...
156 likes · 12 comments
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” 4156 likes
“Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.” 1812 likes
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