The Secret History – Donna Tartt

I’m sort of in love with this book.

I only read it yesterday, so I’m not sure how long it’s going to hold onto me, but right now I still feel like I’m inside the book even though I’ve finished it. There’s no more story left and yet I can’t stop thinking about it.

Summary

An elitist group of classics students murder their friend. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler, that’s in the prologue. It’s discovering the why of the murder instead of the who.

At least, I was.

Pros

Addictive

The first few pages or so of this massive book is quite light, comparatively. Then, as the murder creeps closer and closer, we watch things slowly and predictably spiral out of control. Gradually, the story builds in intensity, and you are sucked into it, unable to stop reading.

This is a 600+ page book that I read in, like, a day?It flies by. Don’t be put off by the size, you will read it so quickly that you won’t even notice you’re at the end until you keep trying to flip pages but there’s nothing left.

Characters

I am not even going to try to explain how much I cared about these characters.

They are not good people. They are really not good people. Donna Tartt makes this clear that these characters are incredibly problematic, yet you want them to be as happy as possible. You wince when bad things happen to them. They are all incredibly flawed, and it’s not the type of fault where it strengthens another part of their character or comes as a consequence of some overwhelming good quality. Genuinely, you would not want to get close to any of these people. And not just because they might murder you.

And yet you still love them so much. Almost irrationally so. I don’t know how she does it, but it worked.

The Writing

Was gorgeous. Her writing has some quality to it that makes you want to keep reading the next sentence, and the next one, and the next one. It seems to have some rhythmic quality, some inner momentum, which keeps everything moving and you want to keep reading right along with it.

I don’t know what it is about it, but I love it.

This book, by the way, is so damn quotable. I wanted to underline everything, but then I was too invested in the story to stop and get a pencil.

The Greek

I feel like I learned stuff when I read this. I think. Or at least I’m interested in finding out stuff about it now. God, they make Greek sound so damn cool. It’s like when Sherlock first came out and everyone was buying those long black coats.

Cons

This will consume all of your time. It may ruin you for whatever other book you want to read.

Also, if you don’t like pretentious kids not doing much for 600+ pages, then this might not be for you, because yes, it’s mostly build up. You know how it’s going to go. You know who they murder and it’s not really a mystery why they murder him.

But read the first chapter or two, see what you think. See if you get sucked in too.

(PS If you are instead looking for a dark college story full of action with problematic characters and supernatural elements  then you should look into Vicious by V.E. Schwab which is incredible and beautiful and awesome)

Quotes

  • “I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”
  • “Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

This next one is long but bear with me. It’s the first quote I saw from this book, and it’s what made me immediately want to read it.

  • “It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown I back, throat to the stars, “more like deer than human being.” To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

Overall

The real mystery here is what I’m going to rate this book because I didn’t make it obvious at all throughout all my raving.

5 shuriken stars.

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2 responses to this post.

  1. i felt the exact same way!! i finished this novel yesterday and i’m still madly in love, with the characters alive and swirling around in my head. my favorite exchange:
    “But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?’
    Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.”

    Reply

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