C.G. Drews's Reviews > The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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bookshelves: adult, contemporary, read-2019, dark-academia

I've been desperate to read this for absolutely ever, and I'm glad I did, although the secret part of my experience with The Secret History is I wish it had been tighter written. Shh. I'm allowed to confess this. I know, I know...it's incredibly famous. It is complex and it's such an exploration of humanity, morality, and justification. I really enjoyed the delving into the human psyche. It also felt a bit like a "coming of age"; in the way that we have this group of young adults, in their very early 20s, who are all pretentious and puffed up on their own intellect and belief that the world belongs to them if only they have the strength of mind to grasp it -- and then they lose their innocence.

Because MURDER, John. *

* me, trying to write an intellectual review and accidentally slips back into meme mode ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

And look, I know this is pretty narcissistic of me to say: But I loved the story, I just wish it had been written differently. I want to say "written better" but that's subjective, isn't it?

Ok it's just that Richard narrates and he is a wet mop. He even OUTRIGHT SAYS IT, "I'm just a bystander". And I am here, like, mate you are. Why are you narrating. I get that it wasn't his story so his impartial view sort of encompassed everyone (since all the others would've been hugely unreliable narrators). And we, as outsiders and readers, get to slowly tumble into the imploding black star that is this scholarly pretentious youthly group's secrets and life and beliefs.

But, Richard was a wet mop.

I'm still struggling over the part where he applies for Julian's super niche class and is TOLD Julian only takes special and few students. And then Richard is there like "ya I'm poor and not very talented and pretty much uninteresting" and Julian is like "BUT YOU'RE WHITE AND STRAIGHT AND MALE AND SPEAK A BIT OF GREEK; WELCOME." My man, my son. Why. Richard literally isn't even smart. But then Bunny was in the class and he was (a) not smart, (b) couldn't even do his assignments, (c) really not smart. But they let him in. So apparently there are no rules 🤗

//What Is This Super Long Book Even About
Good question. Richard is unsure for about 200pgs. I was unsure for about 300pgs. I knew it was going to have murder. It starts with Richard talking about Bunny's death, so you know he's going to die. But HOW and WHY.

At first it's just a ramble through a university and this very tight group of Greek students. They only study under one professor, Julian, who is this super intelligent old man who is very out of touch with modern things and congenial and kind and they all worship him basically. He also really does stoke them into believing their minds can be expanded to be something like gods. It's very interesting. We get a bit on what he's studying them and 90% of it went over my head. But it was INTERESTING. I'm down for that.

Then the rest is us just rambling along with the gang. Their hobbies include: reading pretentious books, drinking, smoking, having very very long dinners, being just very rich upperclass snobs, reading more, and being cagey.

And honestly? I kind of grew attached to reading about them. I mean it's 600 frikkin pages. You get invested. Even though, yes, all of them are horrible. Some complacently horrible; some outright horrible. And I mildly hated all these problematic assholes at some point through the book but I was interested with the aesthetic, the story, the mystery.

(And I just say there WISHING IT WAS GOING TO BE GAY. BUT IT WASN'T GAY. Go read If We Were Villains if you need gay. I mean Francis was gay? But quietly so. Richard was a homophobic dick. Literally. The kind who was like "oh I don't mind gay people aS LONG AS YOU DON'T BE GAY IN FRONT OF ME." Son, let me slap u upside the head with a shoe.)


// The Characters, We Must Discuss
Look, they were an interesting bunch and every one would have been a more interesting narrator than Richard. But anyway.

Henry: Possibly the "leader" but in a very quiet way. He's like tall and huge, intensely smart, he literally skipped doing SATs for the aesthetic. He studies for fun and he's quiet. I actually suspected he was autistic but I'm not sure. 👀Probably not by the end. Possibly. Unsure. (I always crave autistic rep ok; because I am.) He's basically a genius and he knows it and he's VERY pretentious.
Charles & Camilla: I put them together because they're twins and really didn't have lives apart from each other. Camilla was very interesting, but as the only girl, she was subjected to so much sexism it was really frustrating. (For instance; Richard had a low opinion on girls because he thought they weren't intelligent. Camilla was intelligent and in this niche Greek class, aka he had a crush on her. Predictable. I roll an eye.) Charles was a huge huge alcoholic. It just got worse as the book went on. (view spoiler)
Bunny: Basically the congenial joking asshole, the leech of the group. He is a man baby and cannot do aNYTHING and has them pay for EVERYTHING. And the fact that he's so dumb, also, makes me wonder why he's in their class. But ok. He's honestly horrible. Disgustingly homophobic and sexist at every opportunity; but in this whole "good ol' blood highclass American way". By god. I hated him. Anyway didn't mind at all that he died.
Francis: Right, so he's gay and highly strung, so completely relatable. He had the least page time though which makes me sad. I was expecting marvellous things from Francis, but whenever he was panicking, it was the sensible thing to do so. GO FRANCIS. I'm probably the most fond of him of them all tbh. Possibly because he's gay, and highly strung.
Richard: I mean what even do I need to say apart from wet mop. Also he's poor and hides it and nearly died of cold living in an open ceiling shed during the winter because he was trying not to let anyone know he was poor.


// What Are The Secrets Of The History Then, Hm?
SO many secrets. Basically as it unravels, you get to know what they've been up to and how it all goes horribly wrong. I did enjoy reading it not knowing much; so I kinda recommend going in like that.

My biggest peeve is how it was all written: it's TOLD to Richard. He's always there to be TOLD things...not to actually experience them. Like 80% of the interesting plot points do. not. happen. with. him. And the a book told in retrospect is fascinating but not altogether compelling at times. It kind of grated on me? I just sat here wishing it had been gay (lol sorry) and but us right IN all the scenes, especially the ones of madness, and also cut out about 100 pages (particularly the funeral wtf Henry and I wanted to throw ourselves in front of a car just to end the boredom) and fleshed out the characters more. 600pges and I still didn't really know them. I suppose that was a bit of the point.

(view spoiler)


// It WAS A Compelling And Bewitching Book
And I did find myself obsessing over it (although a lot over what it COULD have been...if that makes sense). I also deserve, like, a scone and tea for reading 600 pgs of tiny font. Also wtf why are adult covers so so ugly. This is why adults are sad and depressed.
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Quotes C.G. Liked

Donna Tartt
“But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?’
Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Donna Tartt
“It is is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially.”
Donna Tartt, The Secret History


Reading Progress

February 17, 2018 – Shelved
February 17, 2018 – Shelved as: to-read
August 7, 2019 – Started Reading
August 7, 2019 –
page 89
14.15% "this isn't my usual type of read but look at me go

thoughts;
- i'm convinced adults are sad because adult lit covers are ugly
- the first chapter was 50pgs??!?!
- Bunny is homophobic and can die
- lowkey think Henry is autistic
- Richard monologued about having a resting bitch face. im crying
- everyone summarised: "why is he doing that?" "idk for the aesthetic"
- Richard has no idea what's going on and i relate"
August 14, 2019 –
page 200
31.8% "i just found a suspicious splattered mark on my library book (BLOOD?!?!) directly before the book turned to murder (COINCIDENCE!??!?)"
August 15, 2019 –
page 250
39.75% "I can't believe we just had like 2,000 words detailing how awful Bunny is...and Richard concludes with, "But I'm still rather fond of him."

Richard. You are a wet mop and an idiot."
August 16, 2019 –
page 380
60.41% "this book juST DOESN'T END (the funeral is so tedious that i, like henry, am regretting everything)"
August 17, 2019 – Shelved as: adult
August 17, 2019 – Shelved as: contemporary
August 17, 2019 – Shelved as: read-2019
August 17, 2019 – Finished Reading
November 3, 2019 – Shelved as: dark-academia

Comments Showing 1-8 of 8 (8 new)

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message 1: by Jennifer (last edited Aug 17, 2019 10:29AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jennifer YES. I thought it was going to be gay (I also thought Henry was asexual, and he wasn't???). You actually grasped why the plot seems so dull, Richard was never really part of it... I'll definitely give a chance to If We Were Villains (it was already on my tbr, hehe)!


message 2: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews Jennifer wrote: "YES. I thought it was going to be gay (I also thought..."

Yes If We Were Villains is incredible and Oliver (he's the narrator) is still the nice/plain guy like Richard, but he's more actively involved in the plot. I feel really sad about Henry 😭


message 3: by Jennifer (last edited Aug 18, 2019 04:07AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jennifer C.G. wrote: "Jennifer wrote: "YES. I thought it was going to be gay (I also thought..."

Yes If We Were Villains is incredible and Oliver (he's the narrator) is still the nice/plain guy like Richard, but he's m..."


That's good to know!
Oh God, Henry was my favorite, (I don't know what it says about me lmao). He and Francis were the only ones I cared about...


Fleur Yessss, I loved this book but omg it could have been shorter and with being shorter - better!! Reading about people just drinking and taking drugs for page after page gets a bit tired after a while 😂😂


message 5: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews Fleur wrote: "Yessss, I loved this book but omg it could have been shorter and..."

yes especially when they never learn 😭😂they all so enabled Charles' alcoholism omg. I mean he needs to take responsibility for himself too but they were his FRIENDS. they should have intervened earlier 👀


Drakeryn yesss Richard was literally the wettest mop in the bucket

Henry was my favorite! And I agree with everything you said about the ending.


Mariam I think maybe saying that Richard himself said he is a bystander is taken a bit out context. But it definitely felt like he was just watching a show not an actual actor in the drama.


message 8: by C.G. (last edited Oct 10, 2019 05:31AM) (new) - added it

C.G. Drews Mariam wrote: "I think maybe saying that Richard himself said he is a bystander is taken a bit out context. But it definitely felt like he was just watching a show not an actual actor in the drama."

Hmm, I don't think so. Like the end scene when (view spoiler) and he realised just how extraneous he was.


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