05 February 2018

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt has been on my radar for years so I was happy to borrow a copy from a friend and find out for myself why it's on so many Top 100 lists.

Published in the 1990s and set in Hampden College in Vermont, the story is narrated by college student Richard Papen and is essentially the story of what happens to him and his five fellow classics students. On the first page of the Prologue we learn one of them has been murdered.

Richard is on a scholarship but his fellow students have wealthy backgrounds and they're all studying Ancient Greek under the exclusive tutelage of a Professor who will only take a limited number of students on at any one time. The novel is peppered with quotes in Greek, and the students are intelligent, rich and somewhat entitled which gives the book an altogether snobbish undertone.

The narrator was irritatingly elusive and I wasn't quite sure if this was the point. The novel provided a penetrating character analysis of the friends without ever giving us a clear picture of the narrator and I'm still not sure why. Each of the characters was flawed and unlikeable in their own way and their behaviour was sometimes detestable. I'm just talking about their everyday behaviour here, not the fact that they murdered one of their friends.

Given I had little to zero understanding of the classics references contained within the book, I was relieved to discover I could easily follow the mystery through to a satisfactory ending. Although I was left wanting to know more about Henry's past and what happened in the woods.

Ultimately, this was a grudging read and a slow-burn. There's much to admire in the writing and the research is impressive, but it just didn't ring my bell. If I wanted a college setting with inspiring references to classic literature and a tragic death I'd turn to Dead Poets Society.

My rating = **

Carpe Librum!

Would you like to comment?

  1. Thank you, Tracey! I haven't read this yet, and it's one of those that always hanging around the"should-read-list" part of my brain. Now I can clear it out!!

  2. You're welcome Debbie, but I'm in the minority on this one. You might like it.


Thanks for your comment, Carpe Librum!