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The Secret History
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March 2016: Mystery Thriller > The Secret History by Donna Tartt - 4 stars

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annapi | 4850 comments Wow. Not an easy book to review. It's the story of a group of college misfits who study exclusively, almost reclusively, under an eccentric professor. Their effective isolation from the rest of the college body causes them to think and behave differently, and in their struggle to find meaning in life discover how easy it is to kill.

What a fascinating, disturbing book. Most of the time I was reading it I kept thinking how like a train wreck it was as I read on and on in fascinated horror, unable to pull away. From the beginning, the narrator Richard alludes to a murder, and we spend the whole story anticipating the events that lead to it, which comprise Book 1, the first half. Book 2, the second half, deals with the aftermath and the breakdown of the group members' psyches. Interestingly enough, I found the second half easier to read, and once I got there could not put it down till I finished it.

Most of the time I could not decide if I liked the characters or not. They were interesting, but college world they were part of was so alien to me I could not really relate to any of them. Richard, coming from a middle class family and desperately pretending to be wealthy in order to fit in, was probably the one I could sympathize with the most, but I thought even he acted like an idiot for the most part. I found the character of their teacher Julian to be rather shallow, so much on the fringe of the story that I could not understand the attraction the students had to him as an almost father-figure.

I found it intriguing that the author really almost brings you to side with the students and their motives. You know that they did wrong, but you still feel relief when things go their way, and when you realize this it becomes part of the fascination of the book, that it can make you sympathize with them. The peeling back of the layers of the characters in the second half was like watching a boulder slowly rolling downhill and finally crushing the victims at the bottom. I'm not sure what to think about the ending - I found it rather abrupt, and almost a cop-out, and then after we are told how each character ends up, the last pages are thrown at the reader for dramatic effect that was so contrived as to be annoying. It was obviously meant to leave the reader hanging with the question of is-he or isn't-he, and I did not like it. I did not find it convincing enough to make me wonder.

As a literary piece I found it worth reading, hence the 4 stars, but on a personal level it did not really move me, and books of this type are not typically my cup of tea. I am still undecided if I will read The Goldfinch or not.

One more thing - this is tagged mystery thriller, and I know a bunch of us are reading this for the tag of the month, so I feel ok with posting it here. I agree with the mystery part, and certainly it can be tagged suspense; however I can't bring myself to tag this as a thriller. For me "thriller" connotes a lot of action and excitement and this really does not qualify, except in an overly broad sense.


Nicole R (drnicoler) | 7644 comments Oh my gosh! I cannot believe you are done already! I was feeling pretty proud for being on page 50...


message 3: by annapi (last edited Mar 05, 2016 03:31PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

annapi | 4850 comments I started on March 1st, and 5 days is a long time for me on one book. However, Book 2 held my attention, and I think I hit the beginning of Book 2 this morning, and as I mentioned in the review, just did not stop till it was over. I had the morning pretty much to myself as everyone was sleeping late!


message 4: by Jgrace (new)

Jgrace | 2709 comments Having read The Goldfinch, I've decided not to read this one. I could value The Goldfinch as a literary effort, but it moved very slowly. I also want to see some growth or redemption in at least some of the dysfunctional characters if I spend hundreds of pages with them.


message 5: by Anita (last edited Mar 06, 2016 08:50AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Anita Pomerantz | 6249 comments I'm pretty happy to see the four star review. Or maybe relieved is more the word. I read this in college, and loved the writing and the darkness of it. It was literary, but still suspenseful. I haven't read it in years, so of course, I worry that perhaps only my college self liked it and maybe I shouldn't keep touting it as one of my favorites.

Sounds like it wasn't amazing for you, but I'm very happy you appreciated it.

I did like this book much better than The Goldfinch - - though the writing there is also excellent. But the plotting really hurt that book for me.


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