The Secret History by Donna Tartt

For my first official blog post I will be discussing the most recent book I finished and one that provided an incredible reading experience. The Secret History by Donna Tartt takes readers on an exhilarating and thrilling ride and within 559 pages provides everything that a great book needs. It provides romance, mystery, action, relatable characters and a plot that hooks readers in from the beginning and continues to drive their interest throughout.

Much of this book or about 1/2 to 2/3 of it is spent following the lives of Richard, a native of California, and 5 other students who study the Classics with a renowned professor named Julian at a liberal arts college in Vermont. For someone who dreamed of attending a school like this, the book hit home and seeing what the characters experienced during their college days drove much of my interest in the book. The narrator, Richard, is a sort of Nick Carraway type as he joins the group late (they had all been together at least one year) and proceeds to be well-liked, yet always distant from the secrets of the group. He romantices the characters of the group in a way that compares heavily to how Nick romanticez the characters of Gatsby.  As the reader learns later in this book their reasoning for not including him fully in the group is not because they didn’t like Richard or didn’t want him to be part of the group, but because they had some super weird and creepy secrets (like the girl and boy twin being in a secret romance) which they thought would run Richard off from the group. However, this does not end up being the case as Richard continues to be part of the group after he finds out the multitude of secrets they had been hiding from him.

The book heavily explores the lives of these college-aged students who essentially have separated themselves from the school and interact only with each other and their teacher. What makes this part of the book so interesting is to see Richard (a poor kid from California) interact with these wealthy, high upper-class, intelligent characters and then to also get a glimpse of what college life was like during this time period (presumed to be the 80’s when the author was in school). Furthermore, the author develops these 5 characters + Richard into somewhat pretentious characters, and while they were pretentious they were extremely likable because of their insecurities and the way the author made them feel so realistic. Yes, there were moments that these characters would say or do something that was frustrating, but you ended up geiniunly wanting the characters to find their happiness/purpose, which they struggle so hard to find.

Furthermore, the first part of the book gives a glimpse into what it was like to study at an elite, liberal arts college in the 80’s. While much of the book focuses on these 6 characters we also get a chance to meet various other students and professors at the college and the author does a wonderful job of providing an in depth view into what the everyday life of Richard was like. This allowed the reader to see what there was to do in a middle of nowhere town in Vermont and what the parties and romances were like during that time period (to me one of the more interesting parts of the book was witnessing Richard at parties and seeing how that compared to being in college in 2018), and lastly just the day to day activities that the narrator experiences in comparison to college today. It was intriguing to me to see how Richard battled the complex issues of a college student who came all the way from California to an area he knew almost nothing about and to be around a group of people he had never interracted with before. Many books focus so much on providing either a quick glimpse or too much detail about something, whereas I thought this book did a fantastic job of providing enough detail and description to allow the reader to enjoy following the journey of Richard and the other characters, but also keeping the reader engaged in the bigger areas of what was going on.

The book transforms from this college fantasy of sort to the evil action which drives the second half of the book. Richard finds out that Henry and the gang (minus Richard and Bunny) got really high on drugs and essentially killed an innocent man in the process while they were unaware of what was going on. Bunny figures it out shortly after and pressures Henry (the leader of the bunch and richest) to take him to Italy before spending essentially all his money in a blackmail attempt to get back at Henry. However, their friendship is strained and it reaches a point where Henry returns home and worries the group that Bunny might tell of their murder to the police. Richard finds out soon after and this leads to the group deciding the best route is to murder Bunny in what will be an apparent hiking incident. The rest of the book focuses on how the group sort of comes crashing down as a result of the death of Bunny. While from the outside the group seemed to be doing “okay”, on the inside this group of students unraveled to a point where Charles (one of the main characters) attempts to murder Henry, but instead shoots Richard (who lives) and leads to Henry killing himself instead. During this time period of the book and the results of the death of Bunny really leads the reader to see the more “negative” sides of the characters during this portion. This is where we really get a glimpse into who Richard is and how he reacts to the frequently immoral actions of his friends. One drawback of the book is that while for the most part it seems fairly realistic of what a college student’s life could be like, this second part has so many areas that seem difficult to believe would happen. 3 deaths (in like 2 months or less) just seemed to me to be a bit much

The beauty of this book is that the author creates these characters in this group who from the outside looking in are viewed as intelligent, wealthy, attractive, normal college aged-students. While everything may look normal to the outsiders of the book, it is interesting to see how Richard and the group attempt to mask their unraveling from Julian and the people closest to them who are unaware of what is happening. I think this is the part of the book that can resonante with not only college aged people, but anyone who decides to read this book. We all deal with complex issues in life and many of us choose to hide our issues from others and I think this book deals really well with showing this aspect of the story. Furthermore, the book combines elements that everyone can relate too, which is one of the most important things to me in a book as I enjoy reading something where I feel like I can relate to the character’s or the story. Lastly, the book combines all of this with an exciting plot which keeps readers engaged, strong character develoopment that are likeable even after the horrors they commit, dialogue which drives the stories, and mystery/action that helps enhance the book.

Overall, this book is a fantastic read for anyone interested in seeing what college life was like during the 80s but are interested in stories of friendship, murder, action, etc. This story esentially covers anything a good story needs and was a fantastic read. While at times it can seem rather long (around 600 pages), it is well worth the time invested and was one of the better books I’ve read over the last years. I’m glad to share my thoughts on this book and hope some of you get a chance to read it. I’m currently reading Principles by Ray Diallo, which I should be finished with in the next week or so and am excited to talk about that one. Hope you all enjoyed this post!




One thought on “The Secret History by Donna Tartt

  1. I am a huge Gatsby fan, so relating Nick Carraway with the narrator compells me to dive into this book and fall in love with the liberal art 80’s. Great piece!

    Liked by 1 person

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