Book Review 11: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

13 Feb

I finished The Secret History in 24 hours, which happened to be the same 24 hours in which Donna Tartt announced she’ll be releasing a third novel in the upcoming future. The Secret History tells the story of 6 prep school kids studying the classics under an eccentric professor at a small liberal arts school in Vermont, and the secrets, conspiracies and fall out from one fateful night in the woods.

This book is part psychological thriller, part straight suspense novel, and part psychoanalysis of the main characters.  Honestly, I would compare it to Gone Girl in terms of the depth of character analysis, suspense and tone. It’s like a much more literary Gone Girl. I honestly don’t recall ever reading a book in the suspense or thriller genre where I found the prose to be beautiful or worthwhile in it’s own right, but here it was.

The characters in this book are offbeat, but not in an overly quirky, annoying way. There are the too-close twins dressed all at white who overcome their creepy first appearances to make everyone feel warm and welcoming. There’s the reckless Bunny, too smart for his own good and too incapable of reading social situations to save himself. There’s the charismatic, homosexual red head Francis who seems to draw men to him like a magnet.

And then there’s the narrator, Richard, who for me was the most untrustworthy character in the whole lot. Tartt created a weird phenomenon, where at first I identified with Richard, and his longing to belong to someone or something and his desperate fear of missing out. But as the novel progressed, I trusted Richard less and less. I started to feel as if he was hiding something from me, the reader, or that he wasn’t as socially intuitive enough to satisfy me.

Halfway through the book, I had this overpowering feeling that the ending would let me down. That there was no way for the book to end that would surprise me, or satisfy me. But by the time the ending came, it seemed like the only possible path the characters could have taken. Tartt did a fantastic job of alleviating the anxiety of the mystery/suspense plot line, leaving almost 200 pages to flesh out the aftermath of the events and how it tore the kids apart psychologically. When it ended, it felt sort of beautifully inevitable. And as real as it could get for the characters.


3 Responses to “Book Review 11: The Secret History by Donna Tartt”


  1. HelloKatieO’s #CBR4 Review #11: The Secret History by Donna Tartt | Cannonball Read V - February 13, 2013

    […] Read more about my mistrust of the narrator and my thoughts on the ending…. […]

  2. HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Review #31: Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Maria Pessl | Cannonball Read V - May 27, 2013

    […] book reminded me a lot of The Secret History, but I think I prefer Special Topics. The end of this book throws a curve ball at you that I, for […]

  3. Book Review 50: The Year of the Gadfly by Jennifer Miller | Book It. - December 26, 2013

    […] stories all the time and I love them all. I can’t decide if I only read the best ones (The Secret History, Calamity Physics ) or if it’s because I’m pre-disposed to liking them. I certainly […]

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