Melanie's Reviews > The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporary, read-in-2018, mystery, buddy-reads

“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 is anything it’s a modern day Greek tragedy.

The Secret History is told in a unique style, which is a man reminiscing on some significant events that took place in his college life a bit over a year ago. So, we follow a younger version of Richard, who is finally starting his life away from his abusive and poor family in California. He gets accepted into an elite college in Vermont, and moves across the county in hopes of a fresh start.

Upon arriving to the college, Richard is denied entry into an Ancient Greek course, because the professor that teaches it only allows enrollment to his small, handpicked, group of students that seem almost cult-like. Needless to say, Richard becomes utterly obsessed with the five students in this group and the professor, Julian Morrow, himself. And with a turn of good luck, and by solving a Greek problem, Richard is accepted into this exclusive group.

Yet, in the prologue we find out that Richard, and four others from the group, murdered one of the other students who they are supposed to have a very close friendship with. The Secret History is then told in two parts, one being the events that took place leading up to the death of their fellow classmate, and then one part being all the events that take place after he is murdered.

Bunny is the poor soul that is unfortunately murdered by his peers, yet he’s a racist bigot and you’ll be kind of happy he’s dead, for the most part. Richard, as stated in all the paragraphs above, is the narrator looking back on the events that took place. Henry is my personal favorite, but perhaps the worst of the bunch. Or maybe the best, I’m not really sure, but that’s truly the beauty of this story. Twins, Charles and Camilla. Charles is a bad alcoholic and drug user, and Camilla steals most people’s heart and/or affection. And lastly, we have Francis, who owns a country home that is the stage for many events that take place in this book. Oh, and everyone but Richard has money, even though Richard tries his damnedest to keep that a secret.

“What we did was terrible, but still I don't think any of us were bad, exactly; chalk it up to weakness on my part, hubris on Henry’s, too much Greek prose composition – whatever you like.”

All the characters are morally grey to just generally horrible people, but you completely ignore it because Donna Tartt weaves this hypnotic spell with her writing, that you feel like you are reading this book in a dream like lull. The Secret History is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever read anything quite like it again.

I also want to touch upon sexuality in this book, because a lot of the members in this group are not straight in the slightest. Like, maybe the only ones that were completely straight were Bunny and Camilla. I’m not saying that the queerness in this book is vilified, but it’s for sure not shown in the best of lights. So please use caution while going into this.

And this book is so very heavy in general, so please use caution while reading. Content/Trigger warnings for slut shaming, use of the R word, homophobia, hate speech, fatphobic comments, racist comments, animal cruelty, sexual assault, incest, performing rituals, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and murder.

I know this review is probably not one of my best, and I know I’m being super vague about all these big themes, but this book is just on a whole other level. Maybe this book is about five new adults dealing with the consequences of murder in a very human and realistic way. Maybe it’s about how we are all just trying to fit in and find family, by whatever unhealthy means available and/or possible. Maybe this book is about birth and death and how important the time between those two points truly is. But I do believe with my whole heart that this book would best be experienced blind, and to just go in and feel all the feelings that Donna Tartt will serve you.

While finishing the book, me and Paloma had a discussion about the ending and how Greek heroes’ tales normally go. We talked about how murder taints everything, and how blood is the only thing that can purify it. We talked about how wearing masks is so important, yet death is another mask that we will all eventually wear. God, I’m being so cryptic, but if you’ve read the book maybe this paragraph will mean something to you, because it means the world to me.

Overall, I know I sound like a broken record, but this was one of the most unique reading experiences of my life. I honest to God just do not have the words to put in this review how this book made me feel. I will say that it very much feels like a spell is being cast upon you while reading. Like, I am almost positive that Donna Tartt cannot be a human being, because she is such an exclusive enigma. Also, I think I’ve developed a huge crush on her, so there’s that at least. I can say very confidently that I will remember this book, and the feelings it gave me while reading, for the rest of my life.

“Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.”

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Buddy read with Paloma! ❤
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Quotes Melanie Liked

Donna Tartt
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History


Reading Progress

December 29, 2017 – Shelved
December 29, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
December 29, 2017 – Shelved as: contemporary
December 29, 2017 – Shelved as: read-in-2018
December 29, 2017 – Shelved as: mystery
December 29, 2017 – Shelved as: buddy-reads
January 1, 2018 – Started Reading
January 3, 2018 –
page 150
23.85% "Hi, I love Henry."
January 11, 2018 –
page 309
49.13% "Hi, I'm no longer sure if I love Henry. I mean, I guess I still do. But I am unsure if I *should* love Henry."
January 27, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-39 of 39 (39 new)

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Michelle Curie Aaah, one of my absolute favourites!


Colleen I'm curious what you will think of this one. It's kind of polarizing. Most people seem to love it or hate it.


Ginger I loved this one! I hope you enjoy it as well Melanie!


Melanie Michelle wrote: "Aaah, one of my absolute favourites!"

I'm starting today and SO excited, Michelle! Happy new year, love! 💖xx


Melanie Colleen wrote: "I'm curious what you will think of this one. It's kind of polarizing. Most people seem to love it or hate it."

I hear this too, Colleen, so I'm legit scared! Haha! But I hope I hope I love it! Happy new year, beautiful! 💖xx


Melanie Ginger wrote: "I loved this one! I hope you enjoy it as well Melanie!"

This means so much coming from you, Ginger! Thank you! And happy new year, beautiful! 💖xx


Ginger Melanie wrote: "This means so much coming from you, Ginger! Thank you! And happy new year, beautiful! 💖xx"

Happy New Year to you too beautiful!! xoxoxo


Gelisvb I loved this book


Gelisvb Taylor Swift would agree :-)


Gudrun Saga The dream like lull is the perfect description... So amazingly written.


Melanie Gelisvb wrote: "Taylor Swift would agree :-)"

Oh my gosh, this is the best joke! LOL! I love it! Also... I loved it too. So much! 💖xx


Melanie Gudrun wrote: "The dream like lull is the perfect description... So amazingly written."

I agree, ahhhh! So, I just finished my review, but I'm sitting here reading it and feeling like it is not good enough! Haha! But I promise to post it tonight! 💖xx


Gudrun Saga Mine never got posted, I read it for school and then forgot about the review... So now the feelings are a bit faded, so the review won't be as easy to write...


Melanie Gudrun wrote: "Mine never got posted, I read it for school and then forgot about the review... So now the feelings are a bit faded, so the review won't be as easy to write..."

Awh, I'm sorry, love. They are always harder to write if I wait a bit! Plus... I think this is just a really hard book to review, honestly! But I believe in you!


Gelisvb I loved this book


Melanie Gelisvb wrote: "I loved this book"

I truly did love it, too. I just... can't put my feelings into words. Such a strange reading experience, but one I'll never forget! 💖xx


Ginger Great review Melanie and I'm glad you loved it! I loved this book as well and it will definitely stay with you.


message 18: by Eryn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eryn I LOVE THIS BOOK. So glad it's getting more attention! I think it's much better than her other book "The Goldfinch." Wonderful review btw! ;)


Melanie Ginger wrote: "Great review Melanie and I'm glad you loved it! I loved this book as well and it will definitely stay with you."

Awh, thank you, Ginger! I know it's only been 48 hours, but I honestly can't stop thinking about it. Happy reading, love. 💖xx


Melanie Eryn☘ wrote: "I LOVE THIS BOOK. So glad it's getting more attention! I think it's much better than her other book "The Goldfinch." Wonderful review btw! ;)"

All my friends tell me that you either love TSH and hate The Goldfinch, or the other way around... so now I'm scared! Haha. But I do have one friend that says she loves both, so I'm hoping that's me too! Thank you, Eryn! I hope you're having happy reading! 💖xx


Gelisvb If you liked this you will probably also like: if we were villains 😊


Melanie Gelisvb wrote: "If you liked this you will probably also like: if we were villains 😊"

I'll have to check it out, love! Thank youuu! 💘xx


message 23: by Elyse (new) - added it

Elyse Walters Fantastic you wonderful girl!!!!!!!!!!! I'm inspired!!! xoxo


message 24: by Melanie (last edited Feb 05, 2018 11:52AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Melanie Elyse wrote: "Fantastic you wonderful girl!!!!!!!!!!! I'm inspired!!! xoxo"

Awh, Elyse, you are the kindest! Thank you so much for these words! I hope you're having a lovely February! 💘xx




message 25: by Danielle (new)

Danielle Tremblay Great review!


message 26: by Cam *tactile seeker* (last edited Feb 05, 2018 12:09PM) (new) - added it

Cam *tactile seeker* I bought this book when Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" was everyone's favorite of the moment. I remember browsing her oldest books and just falling in love with the other version's elegant black cover of "The Secret History". It spoke to my Classical Greek and Latin's inner lover and when I found out that one of the characters had my name (I know I sound awfully vain, but it doesn't happen often, in any literature) I knew I had to buy it. I started it almost right away but I stopped, I think, at around the 70-80% mark. It was brilliant, the writing was exceptional and the mistery was really well-executed, but I couldn't connect with the characters and I felt so bad about it! Your wonderful and passionate review convinced me I have to finally finish it, though. You made me want to give it another chance and I think that's amazing. I love your reviews, Melanie. ;)


Melanie Danielle wrote: "Great review!"

Awh, thank you so much, Danielle! 💘xx


Melanie Cam *tactile seeker* wrote: "I bought this book when Donna Tartt's "The Goldfinch" was everyone's favorite of the moment. I remember browsing her oldest books and just falling in love with the other version's elegant black cov..."

This was SUCH a kind comment, Cam. I don't even have words to thank you. This book is so unique anything else I've ever read! And almost a month later, and a day hasn't gone by that I haven't thought of it. Seriously, Donna Tartt is a witch or vampire or something magical and non-human! Haha. Happy reading, love! 💘xx


message 29: by L (new) - rated it 5 stars

L If you still feel like taking about this book, I will probably finish it sometime in the next few days. It’s utterly thrilling! Even though I’m only about 40% done with it, I know that this is one of those books that needs to be talked about!


asturp In what situation do fatphobic comments accur? I just finished the book and I cant seem to remember anything of the sort. Appriciate it if somebody replied!


Melanie L wrote: "If you still feel like taking about this book, I will probably finish it sometime in the next few days. It’s utterly thrilling! Even though I’m only about 40% done with it, I know that this is one ..."

Oh my word, I am just now seeing this, L! But I'm always down to talk about this gem of a book! Hehe! I see that five star rating and my heart is so happy! 💖xx


Melanie asturp wrote: "In what situation do fatphobic comments accur? I just finished the book and I cant seem to remember anything of the sort. Appriciate it if somebody replied!"

This was the first book I read this year, so I can't remember the page number(s) or anything like that, but Bunny was a pretty terrible dude that said some pretty terrible things, so I'm confident it was probably from him! 💛


message 33: by Eryn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eryn I know exactly what you mean! This book is the definition of brilliant. It's definitely one of my all times favorites. :)


message 34: by Eryn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eryn Also, if you loved this "If We Were Villains" is very similar to this in feel and characters -- I enjoyed it as well. I highly recommend it!


message 35: by Sam (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sam toer I agree,Secret History is a brilliant book which I enjoyed reading. Thanks Eryn for the recommendation.


Melanie ⇢Eryn wrote: "Also, if you loved this "If We Were Villains" is very similar to this in feel and characters -- I enjoyed it as well. I highly recommend it!"

Oh thank you so much for this recommendation! I actually picked this book up not too long ago on Book Outlet! I am honestly adding to my October TBR now! Thank you so much, Eyrn! 💘xx


Melanie Sam wrote: "I agree,Secret History is a brilliant book which I enjoyed reading. Thanks Eryn for the recommendation."

Happy reading! 💘xx


Alexa I completely agree with everything you said. I finished this book while on an airplane and for the next hour just sat there, confident I would never be able to enjoy reading to this extent again because I would never again read anything this captivating. Donna Tartt is on a whole other pedestal of good writers. Absolutely brilliant!


Angela C Richard is 20 when he’s at college, and 28 when he’s telling the story so there’s definitely been more than a little over a year lol


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