Book Review | The Secret History

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.

29044After 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.

Rating: ★★★★✩

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!

10 thoughts on “Book Review | The Secret History

  1. I really enjoyed this book 🙂

    Having studies Classical Civilisation in a room that was combined with a Latin class I don’t think the charactors were too over the top with the exception of the whole events in the woods bit. Dead languages do seem to attract (mostly non-homicidal) wierdos!

    Donna Tartt is such an incredible writier I think I would read anything she released regardless of what the plot sounds like. I’m actually starting The Goldfitch this week!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love your review and I’m glad you enjoyed it!

    I picked this up a few years ago from a charity book sale and had never heard of it before – going in blind was my best friend. I really enjoyed this book and was so enthralled by these characters and their mishaps that it fast became a go to recommendation.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really liked A Secret History, but it was extremely disturbing! In some ways it also reminded me of Brideshead Revisited – the rich university students leading destructive lives (although not to the same extent!)
    I know what you mean about the pacing though – some bits did go on a bit.


  4. I love The Secret History, although I definitely agree with you that the characters are over the top. I felt that they were complex and interesting characters, but at the same time I felt that nobody would ever act like that in real life. Particularly Henry! They weren’t really believable as real people… But in some ways, that’s what I enjoyed about it – I liked that I was reading about these rare, intriguing people I’d never come across outside of a book. I also know what you mean about the time period – I actually still have no idea when it’s supposed to be set – 80s or early 90s was my guess. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I honestly love EVERYTHING about this book, but I understand your negative points. I definitely want to re-read it sooner or later and see if maybe I agree with you after all. 😃

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This book, and “The Goldfinch,” are both ones I’d like to get to some day. I am totally with you about time period! I’m always searching for references and context clues if it doesn’t say outright; it definitely helps me visualize the scenes and connect to the story.

    Liked by 1 person

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