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

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Kara (karaayako) | 3978 comments This thread is to discuss Book II of The Secret History which contains chapters 6-8.


message 2: by Jack (last edited Sep 05, 2013 12:19PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack Hansen | 350 comments (view spoiler)


Jack Hansen | 350 comments (view spoiler)


message 4: by Jack (last edited Sep 10, 2013 09:24PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack Hansen | 350 comments (view spoiler)


Kara (karaayako) | 3978 comments Wow! Just finished Part II. I'm at a loss for words. I need to digest all this before I can comment.

(Unfortunately, you can't read spoilers on the iOS app; I'll need to come back later to read through the thread.)


Lianne (liannevanroekel) | 245 comments All that's left for me to read is the End. I didn't know what to expect from the second part, because there were so much pages left after the (view spoiler) and I certainly didn't expect that it would have such an impact on all of them. This book is bizarre and amazing at the same time. Can't wait to read what will happen in the last part.


message 7: by Brian (last edited Sep 16, 2013 03:06PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments I've had a complete turn-around in how I feel about The Secret History now (halfway through Book II) than I did when I started the book.

She needs to relax with the erudite cultural references. I get it Donna Tartt - you're well-read, and you know some Latin and Greek phrases. Stop showing off. Most of these obscure allusions are superfluous and could easily be cut. Focus on improving the content of the story.

There are SO MANY lengthy and unnecessarily embellished descriptions of the weather, what the characters are wearing, how much alcohol/drugs they consume, how much they smoke, etc.

I'm not at all enamored or intrigued by this book. I keep waiting for something to happen, but it keeps going nowhere. I don't even care to finish the book because I have a feeling the ending really doesn't go anywhere. I have to just to see if these terrible characters ever face any real consequences for committing two murders.

Ideally, the characters die in the end - that would redeem the book for me - and not only because their blasé attitude towards brutally murdering someone is troubling and totally unrealistic - but also because these characters are so, so boring. The character development I expected never happened, with the exception or Bunny and Henry (sort of).


Karina (karinargh) | 807 comments For me, this was a rare case of being able to enjoy a book despite a complete lack of likeable characters. (I didn't find a single redeeming quality in Bunny, either)


message 9: by Lianne (last edited Sep 17, 2013 06:37AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lianne (liannevanroekel) | 245 comments Karina wrote: "For me, this was a rare case of being able to enjoy a book despite a complete lack of likeable characters. (I didn't find a single redeeming quality in Bunny, either)"

My thoughts exactly. It reminded me of The Dinner, in which I didn't like the characters either. That book didn't really work for me though, while this one did.


Whitney | 43 comments Karina wrote: "For me, this was a rare case of being able to enjoy a book despite a complete lack of likeable characters. (I didn't find a single redeeming quality in Bunny, either)"

I agree! The characters were not likeable at all (and I found that they became less likeable as the book went on), but I still enjoyed it.


message 11: by Jack (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack Hansen | 350 comments I loved the book. The lesson outshines any character. I thought the characters were believable, not likable, even though the reader may ebb and flow with certain ones earlier in the story.

Unlike some Charles Dickens books where I like the style more than the story, I appreciate Donna Tartt's style and story in The Hidden Secret.>


Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments I LOVE books with unlikable characters...but the characters need to have depth. For me, that's completely missing in this book. I was about to further explain but finished the book today, so moving on to the next board....


message 13: by Kara (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kara (karaayako) | 3978 comments I'm with Karina and Whitney on this. I didn't like any of the characters (especially as the book progressed), but I still wanted to know what would happen to them. They certainly held my interest.


Whitney | 43 comments Brian wrote: "I LOVE books with unlikable characters...but the characters need to have depth. For me, that's completely missing in this book. I was about to further explain but finished the book today, so movin..."

I thought that the characters had depth. I think the problem is that Tartt didn't do much to expand on some of the more interesting attributes of the characters. For example, we find out at the end that Camilla was in love with Henry, but where was that throughout the novel? Also, I wished she had done more with the "romance" between the twins. It was quite shocking when they kissed, but then that aspect of the plot never really went anywhere. It almost seemed to have been thrown in for shock value because Charles could have been jealous of Henry based on the fact that he was Camilla's twin. The incest seemed a little random.

To be clear, I actually really enjoyed reading this book. I felt like Part I was appropriately paced, but Part II seemed to dwell too long on certain parts(i.e. Bunny's funeral) while glossing over some of the more interesting points that could have been expanded upon further.


message 15: by Brian (last edited Sep 17, 2013 01:50PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments While reading Book I, I was excited to see what would happen to the characters and waiting in anticipation for some analysis into their personalities and behaviors. Book II left me really disappointed as I gradually came to realize that wasn't going to happen.

I don't know, I didn't completely hate it, and you're right there was some depth. I'm being especially harsh to temper all the praise and enthusiasm here for discussion's sake. She's an excellent writer but only a decent storyteller (judging solely this book). I just wanted more insight - delving into some kind of psychoanalysis or background to justify these kids' twisted minds,

Here are my three biggest complaints:
1. Not enough Julian
2. The worst kind of narrator in Richard. Such a boring person.
3. Bunny...really...?

1. Who was the inspiration behind these students committing murder ritualistically and without conscience - the person indirectly responsible? Their role model, their idol, Julian.

The book could have been so good if she had cut the ~200 pages worth of those tiresome, garish passages describing the weather, the trees and the flowers, and what EVERY SINGLE character (major or minor) was wearing head to toe - all fluff (though beautifully written) and instead spent more time on Julian.

My fascination with the characters would have continued beyond Book I if in turn the characters' fascination with Julian continued to evolve in Book II. Being a great writer, she could have done so much more here, but for some reason, she kind of abandoned Julian. I want more Julian; make me believe this teacher would be capable and powerful enough to influence and reshape my mind to make me do something so unthinkable and primal - then these character would not seem so ridiculous and contrived.

2. Sadly, that was impossible in a book with Richard being the most passive and uninvolved narrator I think I've ever read. I cringe when I see people calling him the next Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby. No. They are both passive narrators serving as a stand-in for the reader, and the similarity ends there. Carraway participates and interacts with other characters and exposes their backgrounds, their colorful personalities - why they are the way they are. Richard follows and observes other characters who themselves are also passive, reticent, aloof, and withdrawn - so instead of actually revealing anything particularly insightful about them, he summarily lets us in on the exact permutations of their facial expressions, their 1920's mannerisms ("chum" "Richard, old sport!", "Goodness." - come on, no teenager spoke like that in the 80's), their vices (so frequently described casually - it's so absurd these kids made it to class on days of no sleep and binges, I expected them to die of an overdose in the end), and of course, their blasé way of talking to each other.

3. The focus on Bunny and the funeral in Book II. Richard out of all 5 of them is the only one who suddenly wishes Bunny were still alive and talks about how great a guy he really was...he actually misses him and his 'ruddy cheeks' and childlike slams on the back, booming voice, etc. Come ON. Are you kidding me? Richard barely knew him, but from what he knew and told us, Bunny was nothing more than a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, greedy, entitled, moronic, and ungrateful bully with not a single redeeming quality who probably would have had it coming later in life if they hadn't killed him. So why the sudden mourning?

And why was Bunny ever even part of this extremely exclusive, sophisticated, and cultured group in the first place? It's so inconsistent with everything we are told about the characters and makes no sense that they would ever even speak to a person like him.

Maybe this is just one of those 'you either really love it or really hate it' books. I'm clearly in the minority haha
*edit* I didn't actually hate it, but compared to how much people love it, it feels like I do. I'd give it 2.5 stars, so I'm going to generously give it 3.


Aislinn | 40 comments ARGHHH, GR just ate my carefully worded post. I hate when that happens. Trying again...

I'm afraid I'm with you, Brian. On balance, I have more issues with this book than I do praise. I'm probably not as tolerant of unlikable characters as some are, or maybe it's just that I need them to be more sympathetic, or for there to be likable characters to balance out the unlikable ones. With every character unlikable and mostly unsympathetic, it becomes hard to care what happens to any of them. I had thought I might gain sympathy for a few, (like when Henry rescued Richard over winter break), but all of that was lost as the story progressed.

I felt the book was too long, that the story could have been tightened up quite a bit and been more compelling as a result. I agree with you Brian, that the author is a much stronger writer than she is story-teller. Some of her prose is beautiful, but I found it a bit pretentious at times, and the fact that our narrator is an economically challenged kid from California makes the word choices for his thoughts that much more incongruent.

The inconsistencies with cultural references were a frequent irritant for me. Between music references and hippies, clothes descriptions and moon landings, typewriters and laptops, pay phones and speech patterns, this seemed to be set in no time period that makes sense to me.

I also agree that it would have been much more compelling to have learned more of Julian and his influence on the kids' choices and actions. We have the one lesson near the beginning of the book, that hints at the darker themes, but that's pretty much it. In fact, we're expected to take Richard's word for too many things that we as readers are not able to judge for ourselves. We're told by Richard that the students are attached to and look up to Julian, but we don't see a lot of evidence of this. Richard tells us Charles is the most likable of the bunch, but I have no idea why he believed that, as there was nothing on the page to support that belief. Richard tells us there were things he was missing about Bunny, but again, where was the evidence for why he would feel that way? The examples he gave of Bunny's bouncing walk and booming voice? No.

Overall, I think my rating would also be 2.5, especially as I think the writing had the potential to make it one of those stories that stays with me for days, and instead I just felt relief that I had made it to the end.


message 17: by Jack (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack Hansen | 350 comments Excellent review, Aislinn. You make great observations, like Brian. It is hard to argue with your point of view because you back it up with very astute examples, as others have in this discussion.

I was not bothered by the characters unlikable qualities because they were the result of their choices, as a matter of fact. I was not expecting any heroes but, rather, lessons.

I may be callous because I just recently started reading novels again, and reading non-fiction is fraught with unlikable people, especially in current events. I missed the anachronisms upon which you and others picked up. That may have annoyed me, if I was aware of it. LOL.


Aislinn | 40 comments Jack wrote: "Excellent review, Aislinn. You make great observations, like Brian. It is hard to argue with your point of view because you back it up with very astute examples, as others have in this discussio..."

Thanks, Jack. I do admire the author's gift with language - she had some beautiful turns of phrase, and painted some lovely pictures with her words.

I wasn't looking for heroes, but I do want to feel empathy for the characters, and it was hard for me to feel that. Snape from the Harry Potter books, for me, is an excellent example of an unlikable but thoroughly compelling character who engendered empathy. I think if maybe at least one of these kids had taken in the lessons in the aftermath, I might feel differently.


message 19: by Brian (last edited Sep 23, 2013 06:12PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments Aislinn wrote: "Jack wrote: "Excellent review, Aislinn. You make great observations, like Brian. It is hard to argue with your point of view because you back it up with very astute examples, as others have in t..."

I agree with everything you have said! For a while, I was starting to feel lonely haha or that maybe I missed something, so I'm glad to know I wasn't the only one bothered by many aspects of the book.

From the get go, I too was thrown off by all of the anachronisms. They're everywhere. Maybe I just notice tiny details, but Richard at some point in the book describes mimeographs, typewriters, AND laptops, so I mean...I still have no clarity here.

I just assumed the 80's because that seems to be the general consensus, but I've changed my mind and now think these kids are in some kind of Twilight Zone parallel universe - where people no longer have personalities or meaningful relationships, time and cultures are confused, and young people band together to commit aggravated and premeditated brutal first-degree murders without a shred of guilt or even a slap on the wrist.

I haven't thought about the book at all since I finished it last week, and now that I revisit it again, I'm annoyed at how easily these kids got away with it. Especially that first murder...in a small town, they didn't even flee the state and no one thought to maybe question some of the college students?

Nope, because the townies are different from the preppies, and no way would the police ever suspect anyone in college for murdering a guy in a college town. Just...this book required too many stretches of the imagination. The way they killed him, tearing him apart basically - in reality, that would have been a much bigger deal than they made it out to be. Small town, not many residents, people would all be terrified to leave their homes.

It's too inexplicable to me, and I honestly think with some tweaks, this could be a dystopian science fiction book when it's clearly not supposed to be...I don't know, just give me something, anything meaningful or insightful to take away from it. I've got nothing except some beautifully written passages with some creative metaphors unrelated to the story.

I think...maybe Donna Tartt should become a poet...or write short stories. She'd be amazing at that. I don't think I'll be reading any of her other novel(s?).


message 20: by Jack (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jack Hansen | 350 comments Donna Tartt's first published work was poetry, at age 13. She reminds me of Charles Dickens, great writing style that outshines the story at times.


message 21: by Brian (last edited Sep 23, 2013 09:43PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Brian (brianfinn) | 638 comments Jack wrote: "Donna Tartt's first published work was poetry, at age 13. She reminds me of Charles Dickens, great writing style that outshines the story at times."

Oh, interesting! I didn't know that. That's really impressive at such a young age.

You make an excellent point comparing her writing style to Charles Dickens. I definitely had 'Great(er) Expectations' for the character development in some of his works for similar reasons (the characters were often times caricatures rather than realistic people).

However, their similarities end with the writing style.

Charles Dickens wrote stories that were relevant. His writing helped alter the course of history. His novels opened the public's eyes in Victorian era Britain to the grave social injustices between the rich and poor - a brave undertaking at a time when human rights wasn't exactly a hot topic (doubtful that phrase even existed).

He criticized powerful and rich public officials for their ineptitudes and undeserved great fortunes, and he forced the public to confront the harsh reality of the forgotten often intentionally ignored working class individuals through his protagonists who typically came from the lower castes of society.

Also, Dickens employed satires, references, and other allusions that were clever and made sense - they improved the story, as opposed to Tartt's somewhat scattered, random, and erudite cultural references that feel pretentious and out of place.

Dickens's imaginative writing style served as a vehicle that provided insight into glaring political, social, and economic problems. Tartt should use her gift of writing to similar ends, but she doesn't even come close to tackling any real issues.

The tension between the people of Hampden and Hampden College students were only barely mentioned, something I thought would go somewhere. Instead, as I've said before, I felt nothing but emptiness and depression really. Sure, the rich pretentious characters are unlikable, but nothing comes of it.


Aislinn | 40 comments Brian wrote: "I think...maybe Donna Tartt should become a poet...or write short stories. She'd be amazing at that. I don't think I'll be reading any of her other novel(s?)"

It's fascinating to hear she started out in poetry, and at such a young age. I completely agree that she'd likely be brilliant at writing short stories. Her prose is lovely, and she is really good at setting a mood. Writing a short story that's a snapshot in time - that's something I think I'd really enjoy from her, but I'd also be leery of attempting another of her novels.


Whitney | 43 comments Brian wrote: "Aislinn wrote: "Jack wrote: "Excellent review, Aislinn. You make great observations, like Brian. It is hard to argue with your point of view because you back it up with very astute examples, as ..."

Brian, I'm glad you brought up the bit about the murder. This was yet another point that I thought the author could have expanded upon. Initially, Henry seemed to downplay the murder when describing it to Richard (I think he made it sound like an accidental head injury or something of that nature). Later, Richard reads that the farmer's body was literally torn apart. I was expecting there to be more to the story than what Henry let on and was hoping for more of an explanation from either Francis or the twins. If the farmer's murder wasn't a major point and Tartt didn't find it worth exploring, fine, but it's annoying to me when authors create inconsistencies without explanation.


Londa (londalocs) | 117 comments Brian wrote: "She needs to relax with the erudite cultural references. I get it Donna Tartt - you're well-read, and you know some Latin and Greek phrases. Stop showing off. Most of these obscure allusions are superfluous and could easily be cut ..."

Agree. This is why I didn't like The Time Traveler's Wife as much as everyone else seems too. Just a bit too snobby.

Whitney wrote: "I thought that the characters had depth. I think the problem is that Tartt didn't do much to expand on some of the more interesting attributes of the characters. For example, we find out at the end that Camilla was in love with Henry, but where was that throughout the novel?"

Aislinn wrote: "I also agree that it would have been much more compelling to have learned more of Julian and his influence on the kids' choices and actions. We have the one lesson near the beginning of the book, that hints at the darker themes, but that's pretty much it. In fact, we're expected to take Richard's word for too many things that we as readers are not able to judge for ourselves. .."

These posts highlight my biggest gripe with this book. I wanted to know more of what was going on between the characters, but she only teased us with tantalizing trails and then there was no reward at the end.

*Julian and Henry seemed oddly close and secretive. WHY?

*The Twins...WHY?

*Why did the do everything Henry told them to? He didn't seem to be someone they liked all that much?

And I did not believe for one instant that Henry would have killed himself for some greater cause/idea. He was the most selfish of them all. He would have jetted off for somewhere else (alone) if push came to shove.

The story lines I imagined were going to play out were unfortunately more interesting than the one that actually did.

For example: I thought that maybe Camilla was secretly the mastermind of the entire group. Or maybe they were setting Richard up in some way. Or that Julian was a cult leader and his desire to have no more than 5 students had some significance.

Oh well, it was still a good read even with all of that. I still enjoyed reading it, it just won't be one that I go out of my way to recommend.


message 25: by [deleted user] (new)

I am 3/4 of the say through this book. At this point I see a lot of sociopathy. The teachers, students, and even the family of the victim are all sociopaths. No feeling or empathy. It's strange. It's well written but as it goes on and on too long...I just see cold people. Even so it keeps me wondering what's next. As I trudge through the last quarter of the book I don't think I will be disappointed.


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