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The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Fictional story of friends at an upscale New England college and what happens when they accidentally commit a murder.

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One of my all-time favorite books

  • Jun 17, 2010

The story begins with the main character, Richard, who is trying to find a way out of his "miserable" (re: middle class) life in California. He applies to a private college in Vermont and is accepted. Once there, he decides to major in Greek and meets the other characters in the story--Henry, Francis, Camilla, Charles, and Bunny. These characters are all from wealthy families and, out of boredom, attempt to recreate ancient Greek rituals. They actually succeed at one point, but during the course of the evening they murder a farmer accidentally. When Bunny begins to fall apart over the stress of keeping this secret, the others bring Richard into it. What unfolds is a series of increasingly anxious encounters and an ever-present need to silence Bunny.

Perhaps I'm a little biased, since I've read this story so many times over the years, but I really do think it is one of the best written novels of our time. A friend in college recommended it to me, and I can still remember being on the edge of my seat once the plot began to move. I felt the characters' anxiety as Bunny talked about the murder incessantly no matter where they were. I felt their fear as the police seemed close to discovering the truth. Most of all, I felt their joy in living and learning. Though I never studied Greek myself, I'm enough of a scholar to appreciate the quiet solitude of the library and the challenge of learning to think in a dead language.

Donna Tartt has the amazing ability to develop characters subtly through nuances in speech, dress, and manner. However, they aren't predictable, which, in my experience, is entirely real. Even people we've known for years can surprise us, and these characters are no exception. Despite their having committed murder, I found myself sympathetic to their plight and fear, though I can't say I really liked all the characters. What didn't come as a surprise to me was the very human reaction of going with the herd. Richard should have been appalled at the murder, but instead he's flattered that they've included him in their secret, and he stays quiet because he feels he's finally been accepted into the group. While I wanted to dislike him for this, I can't honestly say that I would have done things any differently.

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More The Secret History by Donna Ta... reviews
review by . June 28, 2010
To the moderate, modern sensibility, grief is experienced as a mild synthesis of opposites.  We bear up and keep a stiff upper lip.  Yet we're expected to lapse in this, to occasionally let symptoms of grief break through.  We have the 'social support network,' but other people do not directly, vocally share in our grief; we don't indulge in mass lamentation.  The terrible things that happen to us are seen as horrible, random accidents; but we're counseled …
review by . July 11, 2010
Compulsively readable
I’ve read this book probably half a dozen times since I first picked it up in as an undergraduate. It’s so thoroughly addictive, for a number of reasons. First, Tartt accomplishes the difficult feat of writing an intellectual novel that is obsessively detail-oriented and yet is an incredibly well-paced mystery. You learn about a murder on the first page, and then the whole novel unravels for you how it happened, with liberal doses of ancient Greek literary and philosophical references …
Quick Tip by . July 01, 2010
Fascinating look at an offbeat topic. It will keep you turning pages until the end.
Quick Tip by . June 21, 2010
LONG LONG LONG. But interesting characters.
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Anna ()
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Member Since: Jun 15, 2010
Last Login: Jun 17, 2010 09:53 PM UTC
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