Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is the original American campus novel. When Richard Papen joins an elite group of clever misfits at his New England college, it seems he can finally become the person he wants to be. But the moral boundaries he will cross with his new friends – and the deaths they are responsible for – will change all of their lives forever. The Secret History recounts the terrible price we pay for mistakes made on the dark journey to adulthood.
This. Book. Was. So. Good. I’ve been putting off writing this review for weeks because I was so intimidated by the genius mystery in the story. I just thought it was so good that a review written by me couldn’t do it justice. If you liked the TV series How To Get Away With Murder you’ll definitely enjoy this book. You’ll love it even more if you’ve been to university or had that “college” experience, even at a very academic high school, though I think any reader will appreciate Donna Tartt’s thriller.
I’d call this book sophisticated, on-the-verge YA because it centres around some pretty dark stuff done by characters in their college years – it’s probably ideal for readers 17-18+. But if you’re younger, go for it!
The characters are so intriguing. With all but the narrator, Richard, you seem to get closer to the group but you never feel you know the whole truth. They are secretive, wise beyond their years (well, except for Bunny) and endlessly conspiratorial. The twins, Charles and Camilla, are charming and a little odd. There’s Francis, who is incredibly rich, Henry, who is a veritable genius especially when it comes to linguistics, and Bunny, who coasts off the others. Richard is smart but feels inadequate around his friends, and tends to fade into the background and be led by the stronger personalities in the group. Their Classics professor, Julian Morrow, is a curious character who has incredibly high standards for his Ancient Greek class of six and who’s actions are always a little bizarre.
“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.”
There were moments when the book got reflective and seemed to drag, but I think these represented quite well the passing of time over winter break and the loneliness that Richard felt when his peers left campus.
Once the story of the original murder unravels, you will be hooked to keep reading. Interestingly, it’s not particularly gruesome (there are moments), as the story focuses more on the psychological aspect of being involved in a murder and the repercussions once the act is committed. Donna Tartt’s novel is about students who are too smart, to the point that they feel isolated and untouchable. The Secret History is a very intelligent book and a captivating read – you won’t be disappointed!
If you’ve read The Secret History, let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear your thoughts!