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The Secret History
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ARCHIVE 2013 > SEPTEMBER 2013: The Secret History: Book I (Contains Spoilers)

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Kara (karaayako) | 3977 comments This is for discussion of Book I of The Secret History which contains chapters 1-5.


message 2: by Brian (last edited Sep 04, 2013 02:48PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments This is in response to what Jack posted in the General Discussion, so I quoted him here.

Jack wrote: "I agree, Brian, well-written and great character development. I am listening to the Audio version, narrated by the author, herself, Donna Tartt. I marvel at the choice of words in their sequence to describe the story she paints in my mind. I think that is a task usually overdone or simply inadequate, but Donna Tartt is most proficient and entertaining in her writing and reading. She writes a pro's prose."

She definitely does write a pro's prose! She uses some really obscure vocabulary (and of course ancient Greek), but I love it and am thankful sometimes for the Kindle's dictionary feature. And yet I never feel like it's a chore to read...She uses some pretty fancy words and proper grammar to portray a teenager's thoughts! I was worried at first that it would get tiresome with a precocious protagonist who is too smart for his own good, but that is what makes it work! Richard is a really smart kid. He almost seems too wise beyond his years at times, and at other times, he's just an immature and insecure kid. The prose itself does an excellent job of mirroring those two sides to Richard Papen.


message 3: by Jack (last edited Sep 05, 2013 12:22PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack Hansen | 350 comments Great observations, Brian. I also hear the author's, Donna Tartt's, voice with all the inflections creating another aspect to each character's development.

(view spoiler)


Londa (londalocs) | 117 comments Glad to see you all haven't revealed to much yet. I just had to peek in here.

I just finished Chapter 1 but I already have a question. I'll hide it just in case there are any other peekers :) (view spoiler)


Jack Hansen | 350 comments Londa wrote: "Glad to see you all haven't revealed to much yet. I just had to peek in here.

I just finished Chapter 1 but I already have a question. I'll hide it just in case there are any other peekers :) [sp..."


(view spoiler)


message 6: by Brian (last edited Sep 06, 2013 10:36AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments Londa wrote: "Glad to see you all haven't revealed to much yet. I just had to peek in here.

I just finished Chapter 1 but I already have a question. I'll hide it just in case there are any other peekers :) [sp..."


I am on Chapter 2 as well! I really like your question.

(view spoiler)


message 7: by Brian (last edited Sep 07, 2013 04:41PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments I'm on Chapter 5 now and hope to be into Book II by the end of today - this book is hard to put down!

One thing I have found somewhat unnerving is how Donna Tartt never once references a specific year for when the events in the book actually take place. She so vividly portrays the story's scenes - Plano, Hampden college, Francis's house, the small Vermont college town, etc. - but for some reason deliberately skirts around the subject of the story's place in time. I find the lack of a specific time placement detracts from an otherwise conceivable setting.

My question is do you think that the author intended the story's somewhat 'timeless' setting as a narrative technique that has some deeper significance to the story itself, or do you think the vague sense of time is simply a flimsy lack of oversight?

(For the record, this is a small issue I have, and it is only because it throws me off a bit. Otherwise, I love the book so far and admire Donna Tartt for her eloquent prose and artfully written novel.)


Karina (karinargh) | 807 comments I don't think it's entirely 'timeless' - there are certain mentions of music (Josephine Baker records, Fleshtones) and news events (the moon landing). Along with the frequently mentioned hippies, my guess would be we're somewhere in the 70ies (or, considering the Gaultier corset outfit worn by a girl at a party, it might be the 80ies. I'm sure there'll be more clues like this scattered throughout the book!)


Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments Yeah I didn't mean entirely timeless - it just took time to develop for me until I finally knew they had to be in the 80's. They use typewriters, mimeographs, and a couple of times refer to things looking like they were from the 70's.

The other thing is these kids speak and act like they're the social elite from the early 20th century, and their lives are so separate and distinct from the world around them. I've realized then that making the time somewhat vague throughout the book was intentional - probably to give the reader a similar feeling of isolation from the modern day world going on around them as well.

Remember when Henry couldn't think of Marilyn Monroe's name, and he was shocked to hear that we had landed on the moon? Hahaha...these kids are unbelievably insane, to say the least.


message 10: by Kara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kara (karaayako) | 3977 comments No need to mark spoilers in this thread; we assume that everyone here has read Part I. (But it is probably a good idea to do so particularly at the start of the month.)

I'm completely enamored with the book so far. I agree that the time thing may be a device. The characters seem to not care (or really know) what year it is outside of their isolated little bubble, so it's not a focal point of the first person narrative.

I'm finding myself at once intrigued by and a little disgusted by our protagonist Richard. I agree that he's both too smart for his own good and naive/insecure.

I've been really impressed with Tartt's storytelling overall. Take the character of Bunny. Just as Richard does, sometimes I think he's endearing and other times I think he's completely maddening.

Did anyone see the primal madness thing coming? For me, it was a complete surprise. I'd had no inkling.


message 11: by Brian (last edited Sep 12, 2013 01:13PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments I did not see the primal scene coming at all either - it was horrifying and really unexpected for me. Of course it's clear from the beginning that at some point Bunny gets murdered, but I don't think anyone could have guessed the events leading up to it. I have to say - this is possibly one of the strangest most messed up motives for a murder I've ever seen in a story.

At that point, I became totally enthralled and bewildered by the six characters and their total apathy and lack of moral compass. Out of the six, I find Charles and Camilla to be the most 'likable', but that isn't saying much.

Henry is easily my favorite character though (I am only a little bit into Book 2). He's such a taciturn and calculated guy, mysterious, and obviously very intelligent. I want to know more about him so badly just like the other characters.

I think Henry and Richard are very similar characters on paper - they are both very reserved, they both appear to feel almost no guilt or remorse (the others at least seem a little bit affected), and they both speak so candidly, more so than the others, when discussing the grisly and harrowing events.

And yet for some reason, I love Henry as a character but kind of despise Richard. Does anyone feel similarly?

I think maybe it's because Henry's behavior and dialogue are more plausible. Henry's had the demeanor and psyche of a serial killer from the moment Richard meets him. Richard on the other hand doesn't come across that way at all. He is just a kid with low self-esteem who lies about seriously everything to everyone.

I still can't understand why he decided to involve himself in the aftermath of the first primal rage murder and then going further by assisting in the cover-up murder of Bunny....the whole chain of events have nothing to do with him. He has no reason for aiding the others, and it almost seems like he does these things out of pure boredom.

I look forward to finishing Book 2!


Aislinn | 40 comments Karina wrote: "I don't think it's entirely 'timeless' - there are certain mentions of music (Josephine Baker records, Fleshtones) and news events (the moon landing). Along with the frequently mentioned hippies, m..."

Actually, those are some of the things that make the time setting feel inconsistent to me. Hippies were over with by the 80's, but there's a mention of the Betty Ford Clinic, which wasn't established until 1982. Madonna would likely be credited with making the Gauthier corset popular, but that wasn't until late in the 80's; actually, her Blond Ambition tour wasn't until 1990. The moon landing was 1969; Bunny(I think) mentions watching it on TV, but kids attending college in the late 80's would be too young to have done that. The cultural references scattered throughout the pages seem to stretch over a couple of decades, and the anachronistic clothing and behavior of the Greek kids(for those decades) adds to that sense of disorientation and distraction, for me.

I'm not quite as enamored of the book so far as others seem to be. I'm not as far along as some of you are, and have trouble engaging with a book whose characters I find as unsympathetic as I've found these. Richard's first class with Julian and the rest of the students was almost enough for me to set the book aside. Like Richard, the weekends in the country have been a little bit of a turning point, so hopefully this upward trend will continue.


Londa (londalocs) | 117 comments Brian and Jack, I really enjoyed your insight on Richard's proclivity for lying. It should serve him well later in this book. It's funny that he never convinced Bunny or Henry with his lies though.

Kara wrote: "Did anyone see the primal madness thing coming? For me, it was a complete surprise. I'd had no inkling. ..."

I was surprised by this as well! I really wonder if they are telling Richard the entire story about the farmer's death, or if they embellished the story to lure him into their web. I keep wondering why they told him at all. I would be suspicious of them if I were Richard, but he doesn't seem to be.

Brian wrote: "I still can't understand why he decided to involve himself in the aftermath of the first primal rage murder and then going further by assisting in the cover-up murder of Bunny....the whole chain of events have nothing to do with him....."

Exactly!

I am just about to start Book II. Does anyone else feel that Bunny is the only one that reacted normally. He actually felt distraught (in his own way) that they killed a man. The others are way to non-chalant. Can't wait to read the next part!


Theresa~OctoberLace (octoberlace) | 773 comments Just a quick note to say I just finished Part I and am really enjoying this read. It's been a busy month for me, so I'm devoting the weekend to reading. I really hope to finish this one tonight or in the morning.


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