Caitlin's Reviews > The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
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Nov 01, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: 2009
Read in November, 2009

This is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it numerous times since it first came out and I enjoy it every single time and every single time I am so sorry to finish it. It belongs to what I think of as a trio of books about school along with Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand and Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Let me be clear - these books are nothing alike - the only thing they have in common is their college setting. In a way, though, they are alike - they each deal with Dionysian events and their consequences in closed and exclusive college settings.

The Secret History isn't so much a whodunit as a whydunit - you know the who immediately, the why is somewhat more mysterious (and in many ways is never fully revealed). I love the sweeping romanticism of this book - set at fictional Hampden College in the eighties. I was in college at the same time and some of the characters are familiar - the punk rockers, the druggies, the incredibly annoying hippies. Our hero is a California transplant, at college on scholarship and thrust into a small group of privileged students studying the Classics with the enigmatic Julian Morrow.

This is a winter book - cold at its heart, colder in its setting. There are deaths and funerals and philosophizing - lots of masks constantly worn. At its center is the narrator, Richard, and his love of the picturesque and Henry, who may or may not be a psychopathic killer. In this reading I found Julian Morrow to be the most chilling character - he is the old man in the road with the answers you probably won't like once you get them.

If you haven't read this, it's worth reading. Donna Tartt is a good writer and a good storyteller (a worthwhile combination). It takes her forever to write a book (this one took 8 years). Her second book, The Little Friend, is an odd Southern gothic that I also enjoyed, although it doesn't have the staying power of the first. It was 10 years between the first and second novel. Her third novel is due out in 2012. I'll be interested to see how she gets past her sophomore slump.
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