Siddharth's Reviews > The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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it was amazing
bookshelves: favorites, read-some-parts-again, life-altering
Read 2 times. Last read July 14, 2019 to August 25, 2019.

This was probably the first book that I was determined to read because of this awesome review. I started reading, and in the prologue, I discovered that they had killed their friend. An attrocious act, on the face of it, but surprisingly towards the end, I was empathising with their situation, and although, I feel that this may not have been the best course, I can't question the decision that they made to kill their friend. That, only because of some really involved and amazing writing!

Starting out, the book feels really obscure, the characters seem to be ideal versions, who have had too much of education of the Classics, and have withdrawn into a world of their own where murder is required, and covering it up will only make the act harder to digest.

The first five chapters delve into Bunny. The last three are set after the act. Initially, the book is heavy with philosophical references, and description of everything in general. But as the book proceeds, it gets darker and concentrates more on the plot itself, rather than the surroundings. Throughout the book, I felt as if Richard (the narrator) is a passive part of it all, and is able to provide us with something more than just a plain narration of what's going on, but something that is more involved with his own emotional conflict, and the perceived lack of remorse in his accomplices.

This book does lend itself to a movie wonderfully, and now I wish there was a movie based on this book. I am intrigued by her style, and her characters, but most of all, the boldness of the premise of this book.

Re-Read: August 25th, 2019

The first time I read a PDF version of the book. It was nearly 4 years ago and I remember reading a really good review and that being the reason I started reading this book. Well, this book has aged incredibly WELL! I absolutely loved the nuances that I was able to catch on the second time that I read this book. This time, I read it on a Kindle, so I was able to mark several passages that I thought were just absolute FIRE!

I envied them, and found them attractive; moreover this strange quality, far from being natural, gave every indication of having been intensely cultivated. (It was the same, I would come to find, with Julian: though he gave quite the opposite impression, of freshness and candor, it was not spontaneity but superior art which made it seem unstudied.)

Over-all, the book evoked the same kind of emotions in me, I believe. You start with the disbelief: is there ever anything that a person can do to you that would make you want to kill them in cold blood? Then, you learn more about the 5. In particular, I learnt an incredible amount about Bunny in the first section of the book. Then, you realize how cruel he is, and how he gets on everyone's nerves all the time. And how he does it with a relish for the results.

I did know. Bunny had an uncanny ability to ferret out topics of conversation that made his listener uneasy and to dwell upon them with ferocity once he had. In all the months I’d known him he’d never ceased to tease me, for instance, about that jacket I’d worn to lunch with him that first day, and about what he saw as my flimsy and tastelessly Californian style of dress.

The above quote describes perfectly the way Bunny was blackmailing all of them. And then, the act. Once it happens though, you are only half-way done. This book is much more a story about the consequences of one decision than it is about the build-up to that decision. People dislike other people a lot. It comes quite naturally. Taking the decision that this dislike would lead us to, is quote natural too. But the consequences of that decision are un-savoury and push the remaining 5 people (including the narrator) into an extremely unpleasant sequence of events.

Richard has a particularly enlightening realization.

One might expect that I, being at that time perfectly innocent of any crime against either Bunny or humanity, would not myself be a target of this ongoing sniper fire. Unfortunately I was, perhaps more unfortunately for him than for me. How could he have been so blind as not to see how dangerous it might be for him to alienate the one impartial party, his one potential ally?

Richard was Bunny's only potential ally. He was the only "outsider", so to speak. He was the only one in their group, who Bunny believed didn't know about the act, and was confident wouldn't approve of, if Bunny ever chose to tell Richard. In turning Richard on to his side, in a fashion that was so natural that one might even question this particular theory as cynical or diabolical, Henry displays his master-y of people and understanding what motivates them. (Henry would have been one hell of an engineering manager!)

Finally, I have never stopped admiring Camilla for the amazing character that she is! In this book, particularly, she is the hinge to all the guys around her. She is the person around whom all the others spin. In some ways, Henry was the leader of the group, he was flying the plane. But Camilla was the Pursor, she was the one responsible for charming the outsiders and keeping them happy. (including us, the readers). Tartt puts the reader in Richard's place, that's quite clear. And then, in drawing similarities between Richard and Camilla, she forces us to see Camilla as the endearing one. The character that you can't quite not love.

Camilla was no different, secretly preferring, as I did, the easy delights of English literature to the coolie labor of Greek. What was laughable was that poor Bunny should display concern about anyone else’s intellectual capacities.

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Reading Progress

December 16, 2015 – Shelved
December 16, 2015 – Shelved as: to-read
December 20, 2015 – Started Reading
December 20, 2015 –
page 214
34.02% "Finally, the book has moved on from all the descriptions of the characters to the (first) event.\n \n I was mildly shocked to find out that we know what's going to happen, right after reading the prologue. And all that really matters now, is what builds up to it.\n \n And the protagonists are also shown to be really "Logical" ? "Reasonable"? Whatever. Good going till now!!" (Other Paperback Edition)
December 23, 2015 –
December 23, 2015 –
December 24, 2015 – Finished Reading
January 11, 2016 – Shelved as: favorites
January 11, 2016 – Shelved as: read-some-parts-again
January 11, 2016 – Shelved as: life-altering
July 14, 2019 – Started Reading
July 14, 2019 –
11.0% "Okay, second time around, the references to "Beauty being terrifying" and "Dionysian" and "Bacchanal" events is making SOOOO much more sense! Also, I am starting to get a look at what Camilla is like one more time, she is such a GREAT character!"
July 21, 2019 –
37.0% "Okay, the incident is out. Bunny is so infuriating in this particular part of the book. The way he makes the four of them bend it his will and his annoying ability to bring up things that make people uncomfortable when talking to them!"
August 25, 2019 – Finished Reading

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