My Thoughts on Donna Tartt, The Secret History

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Our language is a language of the intricate, the peculiar, the home of pumpkins and ragamuffins and bodkins and beer, the tongue of Ahab and Falstaff and Mrs. Gamp; and while I find it entirely suitable for reflections such as these, it fails me utterly when I attempt to describe it what I love about Greek, that language innocent of all quirks and cranks; a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiply from action, action marching relentlessly ahead and with yet more actions sailing in from either side to fall into neat step at the rear, in a long straight rank of cause and effect toward what will be inevitable, the only possible end.
This quote is the only one that I marked in all of Donna Tartt's The Secret History, and I think it is safe to say that it is because I was enjoying the book too much to bother picking up a pen. I effusively loved this book.  Of course, the quote is fitting, because what Tartt does is write a Greek tragedy in an English tradition (the Gothic), and she does it marvelously.  The story begins in media res, and so the reader knows for the start that there is only one "possible end."  From the first page, we know that Bunny Corcoran will die, and yet Tartt so masterfully builds suspense, piles so many actions upon actions, that we -- or at least I -- was willing to suspend all disbelief.

This is a campus novel, which is already a point on my score chart.  It centers on a group of students studying ancient Greek letters in an unconventional arrangement, with an outdated professor.  The narrator, Richard Papen, literary brethren of the naive and less than reliable Nick Carraway of Gatsby fame, comes along and wedges himself into the study group and into a series of strange events that will change his life, but of which he is, at first, completely unaware.  Things get pretty dark in the second half of the book as we veer into the territory of the truly Greek tragic, and if I had to offer a criticism, the book does wander, sometimes at length, into a land of the fantastical.  But, I have very little criticism, because I was willing to go where Tartt wanted to take me.  The language is superb; although I would be loathe to say I loved them, I was certainly fascinated by the characters; and, finally, over 500 pages seemed not long enough. Please, please Donna Tartt, write another book.

Title:The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Date: 1992
Genre: Literary Fiction, mystery-ish

559 delicious pages.
Where I got it: Bought it
Challenges: Chunkster, Smooth Criminals


  1. One of my all-time favorites! So glad you enjoyed it. I need to schedule a reread of this one shortly.

    1. It is such a fun read. I think it is going on my all-time favorites list as well.

  2. I've seen so many good reviews of this book. I did try to read one of Tartt's other books (The Little Friend?) and couldn't get it to it, but I like the sound of the campus setting of this one.

    1. I know some people who like The Little Friend better, but I haven't read it. I really liked this book, but can see how it might not be everyone's cup of tea.

  3. I'm always happy to see a positive review of this book. It is one of my all-time favorite books--I honestly cannot count the number of times I've read it! Unfortunately, as much as I loved The Secret History, I have never been able to finish her second novel, The Little Friend, after at least five attempts. Tartt was rumored to have a new novel out in 2012, but clearly that never happened. I am keeping hope alive, though!

    1. Yes, I have heard the rumors. It took ten years to write The Secret History, another ten for The Little Friend, so 2012 should have been the year of the third novel. I'm holding out hope for 2013.


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