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The Secret History

4.09  ·  Rating details ·  245,832 ratings  ·  17,702 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 - ...more
Paperback, First Vintage Contemporary Edition , 559 pages
Published April 13th 2004 by Vintage (first published September 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…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…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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 ·  245,832 ratings  ·  17,702 reviews

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Chaima ✨ شيماء
[flings myself onto a chaise lounge and wails dramatically] The fact that I’m not a part of an elitist circle of young scholars quoting Classics over dirty Martinis and toasting to living forever, and who might also be compelled to commit murder because they got too consumed by their Greek homework is the real tragedy here.

“After all, the appeal to stop being yourself, even for a little while, is very great.  To escape the cognitive mode of experience, to transcend the accident of one's  moment
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.
Maggie Stiefvater
Jul 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: adult, recommended
Five Things About The Secret History.

This is going to be a difficult book for me to talk about. I finished it days ago but I find myself a little verklempt, I’ll admit. It’s been a long time since a book has stuck with me so completely as this one, and I say that having had a quite remarkable year for memorable reading. So, the summary is straightforward and completely unhelpful: a Californian boy arrives at a private New England college where he falls in with a bunch of snooty but delightful C
Emily (Books with Emily Fox)
(3.5) I've been telling myself I need more time to think about this book but here we are a month later and I still don't know what to do.

This was described to me as "a murder mystery with a bunch of pretentious college students" and while it's pretty accurate it's so much more than that.

The writing was beautiful character driven and atmospheric book but I struggled to connect with the characters and the overall story.

I can see how it could be on purpose as in "the main character was feeling quit
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
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Aug 08, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: literature, usa
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
“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 this book i
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 classics
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
✨    jamieson   ✨
"A month or two before, I would have been appalled at the idea of any murder at all. But that Sunday afternoon, as I actually stood watching one, it seemed the easiest thing in the world."

this book starts and it's like: hello bitches, welcome to murder club. Here is Bunny, he is dead, he got murdered. strap the fuck in.

This book is actually not funny at all. It's about murder, lots of it. In the first page we find out a group of friends killed one of their own - we know the who-dunnit, this
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
Whitney Atkinson
TW/ drug abuse, alcoholism, suicide ideation & attempts, incest

I can’t believe I didn’t read this book sooner. It is one of my new favorites of all time, and certainly of the year. The melancholy tone of this is absolutely my jam. This type of narration with a passive, wallflower main character caught up in this life of glamour and being an outsider somehow permitted to the inside is one that never grows old to me.

This book’s imagery was so rich and Richard’s inner monologue so moving that I
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.
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
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.

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
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Those who loved The Goldfinch (and anyone else!)

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!

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
Jul 21, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: 1001, us, book-club
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 each
Jul 08, 2007 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Oct 10, 2007 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who went to a liberal arts college
Shelves: favorites
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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
Sep 01, 2013 rated it liked it
Recommends it for: not hippies
Shortly after starting this book I Wikipedia'd Donna Tartt, to see if I was dealing with some sort of reverse George Eliot; I had been under the impression that only men got as smugly pretentious as Tartt does. But no, she's a real lady! Ask Bret Easton Ellis, whom she was banging at U. Miss while in a grad writing course that also included Jonathan Lethem and Jill Eisenstadt, so that is a whopping lot of talent in one course, and also Bret Easton Ellis.

And you sortof start to wonder, did he sta
Dan Schwent
Dec 23, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2015
When Richard Papen joins an exclusive group of Classics students, he has no idea of the secret world of drugs, alcohol, and violence he's about to be thrust into. When one of the students winds up dead, can the rest cope or destroy themselves?

Yeah, it sounds like the crime books I usually read but it's a whole lot deeper than that. This is one of those Big Important Books, full of things like themes and literary references. Like Jim Thompson getting the sauce under control and writing about coll
Helene Jeppesen
Oct 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This is such an amazing book that combines crime and Greek language and mythology with Donna Tartt's beautiful writing style. It is a story about guilt, admiration and repercussions and it blew me away.
I also gave "The Goldfinch" by Donna Tartt 5 stars, but these 5 stars are a little bit different. The story in itself was very interesting, but it did have its dull moments. BUT the mood that Donna Tartt succeeds in creating and the relationship we get with the 5 characters and their lives at uni
destini mia
Feb 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“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.”

I'm still in limbo after finishing this book. Honestly, I don't know what I was expecting from The Secret History. This is one of those books were you finish the last page, put it down, and don't know what to do with yourself.
But walking through it all was one thing; walking away, unfortunately, has proved to be quite another, and though o
☙ percy ❧
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 "this is a better turn out than usual" and we were all just sitting there trying to pretend that we didn't end up there because of a book about a Classics Murder Club and tl;dr this is the impact this book ...more
A classical story becomes twisted in modern times

How much do I love and admire Donna Tartt? (This is a rhetorical question; I love and admire her very, very, very much.)

I read this compulsively, single-mindedly, with the pure joy of reading sparked by the same excitement I remember having when reading The Goldfinch. She may have focussed on dark subject matter, she may have penned a story filled to the brim with selfish, unimpressed, spoiled brats, but GD can she WRITE. She's just so good. She
UPDATE 18/02/2014:-Given how often I think of this book and the conspicuous prickle at the back of my neck every time I remember the characters and their cold complicity in one ignoble act after another, I guess it won't be an exaggeration to state that the memories of reading this book are more potent than the experience of actually reading it was. I am not disowning my earlier review but I believe the only way to be fair to Donna Tartt will be to concede another star.

Now begins my earlier revi
mathilde maire
i think the fact that i've just read 600 pages in a day is indication enough that this book is everything to me
mark monday
Feb 18, 2011 rated it did not like it
The Secret History is about as convincing as Less Than Zero. how has this book stayed so popular? well, Less Than Zero also remains popular. i'll take lev grossman's The Magicians over both of them, and that one is aggravating too. (1) i'm so tired of people who are so tired of everything! (1b) ennui is so very boring, almost as boring as (2) pretentious know-it-alls. this book manages to combine all three. i learned nothing except a new way to be irritated. oh, donna tartt... as if!
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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
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” 2774 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.” 860 likes
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