Donna Tartt’s The Secret History has been on my TBR for years. But despite that, I didn’t know much about it. Still, it had been recommended to me by a few blogger friends, it fit one of my reading challenges, and it has great reviews, so I decided to give it a shot.
After deciding to follow his passion and study Greek, Richard finds himself at Hampden College, a small school in rural Vermont. To study the classics, he must first impress the classics professor, Julian. Once he does, Richard is one only six students under Julian’s tutelage. But the others have secrets. As Richard gets to know them, he begins to discover these mysteries and finds out that his friends aren’t exactly what they seem. Their desire to fully immerse themselves in Greek culture means leaving morality behind. And it’s a very slippery slope.
The Secret History was nothing like the vague idea of it I had in my head going in. I liked the it was kind of a murder mystery – you find out who dies and who the murders are in the prologue, and most of the book is about why this person was killed in the first place. I haven’t read any other book like it (though, to be fair, I don’t read all that many mysteries), but I thoroughly enjoyed it. I thought the characters were interesting, though it takes most of the book to really figure them out. They’re also a little bit crazy. At one point in my review notes, I wrote, “Game of Thrones set in 1980s Vermont.” It’s that kind of crazy. I also did like the plot, as a whole. The mystery was intriguing, and the details were interesting and unexpected. The ending was a twist ending if I’ve ever seen one – if you guess it, you must be a magician. It came out of nowhere! But after I got over the initial shock, I did kind of love that it ended with a bang.
Even though I did generally like this book, there were a few things I was a bit frustrated/disappointed with. For instance, I wasn’t exactly sure about the time period – my initial impression was either 1980s or 1920s – until a credit card was mentioned about halfway through the book. Time period tends to really help me get a good grip on the story, so it was a bit disorienting. I also thought that the characters were a bit over the top and unbelievable. I can’t think of a good example without spoiling anything, but trust me on this one. They just went too far, both in their actions and the subsequent justifications of those actions. Finally, the pacing of the story threw me off a bit. There were really fast, exciting scenes, and then long scenes that were so slow I was tempted to stop reading at times. It was just a lot of extremes, and that did make it a bit challenging to read. Also, one more thing I do want to mention – now that I look back at my notes – is that I didn’t care for the fact that the foreign languages spoken by the characters often lacked translations. I don’t speak Greek, and my French and Latin are rudimentary at best, so to be honest, it wasn’t my favorite part.
The Secret History might not be my favorite book of all time, but I did like it a lot. It was kind of like Game of Thrones mashed together with Dead Poets Society. If you like both of those things, you might really enjoy this book. I’d also recommend it to anyone looking for a good mystery.
If you’ve read The Secret History, I would love to hear what you think!