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The Secret History
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1001 book reviews > The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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Diane Zwang | 1246 comments Mod
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
3.5/5 stars rounded to 4

From the book jacket: “Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at least inexorably into evil”.

This is the second book I have read from Donna Tartt, the other being The Goldfinch which I loved. I can't help but compare the books in my review. I enjoy Donna Tartt's writing and The Secret History was smartly written. She seems to favor characters that come from dysfunctional backgrounds. What I missed in The Secret History was the sympathy factor. I had great sympathy for the characters in The Goldfinch because they were kids but in The Secret History these eccentric college students did not garner my sympathy when things started going south. The story was slow to start for me but as events unfolded my interest grew but then the story would start to wane again. And I have to say that the epilogue did nothing for me.

I am admittedly a slow reader and I managed to finish this book in 16 days, a record for me. I was clearly very engaged with this book but I liked The Goldfinch better.

I was surprised that this book was on the list and I am not sure why. I don't think it belongs on the list.


Kelly_Hunsaker_reads ... | 894 comments 5 stars for me

Sometimes I read a novel that quickens my pulse and makes me breathe more quickly, not because it is particularly frightening or surprising, but because it is so wonderfully engrossing. For me it only happens about 10% of the time. I give many 3 and 4 star reviews but very few 5 star reviews. I need a combination of interesting setting, beautiful prose and characters who are flawed, tangible and real. The latter is the most important element for me. But I also need the author to force me to feel compassion and empathy. I can feel derision, but it must be accompanied by the empathy.

This is one of those books. As I read it over the course of two days I found I couldn't put it down. I carried it around the house everywhere I went so that I could continue the story at every tiny down moment. I rushed through it because I wanted to stay in the story, and then I was sad when it ended.

I liked this book better than Tartt's more prized book The Goldfinch. This one felt more relatable and real.


Diane Zwang | 1246 comments Mod
Kelly wrote: "5 stars for me

Sometimes I read a novel that quickens my pulse and makes me breathe more quickly, not because it is particularly frightening or surprising, but because it is so wonderfully engross..."


I am glad you liked this one. Donna Tartt is a great writer. I had the opposite feeling about the books. I liked the Goldfinch better but at least we like the same author.


message 4: by Hilde (last edited Sep 24, 2018 08:15AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Hilde (hilded) | 349 comments 5 stars from me too!
Read for TBR challenge in September 2018

The Secret History by Donna Tartt, 5 stars

The protagonist in the book, Richard Papen, has spent a rather sad and bland childhood when he arrives at the Hampden College prestigious school in Vermont. Soon, he is fascinated by a small student clique of five people; rich students studying ancient Greek under the wings of the eccentric professor Julian Morrow. He feels the need to belong to this group, but finds it difficult getting acceptance to attend the class.

(view spoiler)

"The secret story" extends over almost 600 pages, but as a reader, I experienced being sucked into the story right from the beginning. It was very exciting, although primarily on an inner psychological level. In addition, I think the language of the book is elegant and sometimes very funny, despite the descriptions of a completely demoralized gang that is gradually beginning to disappear as the truth to what they have done begins to sink in. Although Richard's story is a reflection of his study time, a narrative technique is used that makes it present while the action spreads. This made the reading experience extraordinarily intense. Top score from me!


Karen | 256 comments I had read The Secret History before but did not really remember it well. I really loved it when I read it again.

College, murder, friendship, the destruction of friendship - what is not to love? Other reviews have descriptions of the plot so I am not going to repeat them

The big question I had this time round that I did not have the first time I read it was concerning the role of Julian. (view spoiler)

I spent much of this book trying to think about when it was set - it seems a little surprising that it is the 80s or early 90s. I don't like any of the characters but the impulses they have seem timeless. To live beyond their means, to want to belong to a group that almost functions like a secret society, and to try and recreate the families they had never really had. One of the best aspects of the novel for me is how they are affected by the murders, their personal disintegrations and the breakdown of relations between the characters.


Kristel (kristelh) | 4108 comments Mod
I see that I never popped my review in here. I read this back in 2010. Here's the review; I am listening to the audio of this book, read by the author. The setting is in the east, in a college. The protagonist is from California and he is poor compared to others at the college. I would also say, he is a liar. A very good mystery, even though you know right away that there is a murder. You are propelled through the book to find out why and what happens to the students after the murder occurs.
I gave it 5 stars.


Jamie Barringer (Ravenmount) (ravenmount) | 473 comments I enjoyed this book well enough. I think I would have reacted to it very differently before and during undergrad, and now that I am 'all grown up' and have done my time as a TA during grad school, my perspective on undergraduate college kids is different. I had a few rich, entitled kids in the courses I graded for, and while they always seemed to think the fate of the world rested on their brilliant and misunderstood perspectives, they were just kids playing at being grown up in a world with seemingly few serious consequences.
I could see how jarring it might be for such kids to have to deal with the reality of having killed people. I was not so convinced though that the angst-laden tale Richard told was worthy of such angst. Maybe for a while, but he seemed to like wallowing in his (more or less borrowed) guilt, enough that I was wishing he could have been the final victim of the story. I gave this book 4.5 stars, dropped to 4 on Goodreads, in part because Richard was so annoying.


Book Wormy | 1985 comments Mod
4 Stars

I am team Goldfinch. I enjoyed Goldfinch a lot more than this and that is saying something as I really enjoyed this and despite being over 600 pages long I finished it in just over 2 days so it was certainly compelling.

While what is going to happen is clearly sign posted from the start it was interesting to watch the build up to the main event and then watching what happens after to see the fallout.

I liked the manipulation used by and on the characters and I did wonder if it was applied to some so subtly that they never even realised it was happening.

Julian for me is an interesting character how involved was he, what did he know and why did he choose to act as he did?

Henry's decision was also interesting as it appeared to go against everything I as a reader assumed he believed based on his previous actions.

A thoroughly engaging mystery story.


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