The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History

I enjoy Donna Tartt so much because she adapts her writing style to her subject matter.  Like a good character actress, her pen (or computer keyboard, as the case may be), flows with a fluent language that is unique to the persona of her book.  In this case, it reflects the elite, erudite world of ancient Greek scholars.

Beauty is terror.
Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.

Richard Papen is a student drawn to the small, exclusive New England college called Hamden.  It is not long before he discovers a clique of Greek scholars – an elite group that keep to themselves and study with only one professor.

Like Richard, the reader becomes drawn to this group.  There’s something special about them, and we, like Richard want to be special, too.  That’s where Tartt’s literary savvy really comes into play.  Slowly, she lures you into these characters, making them appear attractive and worldly and superbly intelligent.  But also as slowly, a story begins to unfold that makes Richard (and the reader) begin to understand that all is not well in this scholarly paradise.

At one point, you may realize, as I did, that if you strip away all that enamored you of these people, that they are truly terrible and vile.  Luckily for the reader, he or she doesn’t have as much invested as poor Richard.

Tartt is a master of psychological twists and turns and this is a tale that will have you riveted from start to finish.   She leaves you with much to think about long after the book is done.

I did keep expecting somehow to find a modern version of some ancient Greek tragedy being played out on these pages.  I wracked my brain, recalling my college days of the study of Greek drama, but nothing seemed to match Ms. Tartt’s story.  That, in my opinion would have earned her a full five stars.  Since I don’t believe she went so far as to employ a modern adaptation, I decided to lower my rating by half a star.  Still, it’s a wonderfully written novel, and keeps this author among my favorites.

4 1/2 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2004
559 pages


About Suzanne

I'm a stay-at-home mom with three kids who loves to read.
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