The Secret History by Donna Tartt Review: a modern epic?

Modern books might be becoming more watered down as new authors emerge every day. That said, have we found a modern classic in The Secret History by Donna Tartt?

Setting to read: this is quite a hard one, so maybe save it for a rainy day.

Cover of The Secret History

The Secret History by Donna Tartt Synopsis

“The Secret History” surrounds the story of a group of 5 friends at a university in the middle of American nowhere, who seem to isolate themselves from the rest of the campus. At the start of the novel, it is revealed that 4 of the friends have murdered one of their group members, a twenty-something year-old young man, nicknamed Bunny. We are led to believe that these 4 friends had no choice in the matter, and are told that they are now suffering the aftermath of their actions…

In joining university, our protagonist, Richard Papen, is told he is not allowed to study Ancient Greek, as it is only a very elite group of people who are selected to join. The subject lecturer, Julian Morrow, refuses him on numerous occasions, until a chance encounter between Richard and 3 of Julian’s students results in Richard helping them out with an Ancient Greek dilemma. He is soon recommended to Julian, who later accepts him onto the course. Richard is now one of them, and makes up the 5th member of their little group.

Nonetheless, despite his happy memories spent with his new best friends, he always feels as though he is missing out on something; there always seem to be private jokes and knowledge shared between the others. It is only when things start to escalate that Richard finds out the dark truth, leading to 4 of them ganging up on the erratic Bunny, who may spill their terrible secret.

The Secret History Book Cover

After borrowing this book from my boyfriend’s parents, I was eager to read more, however, I was warned that it was a tough read. I definitely agree and, for someone who studies Ancient History at university myself, even I only understood about 50% of the references made to Ancient literature and mythology. Nevertheless, I was soon engrossed amongst its pages, and spent some of my summer days devouring every word.

Despite my intent interest over the first half of the book, I must admit that the second half was a little bit tedious. The book started out with the build up towards Bunny’s murder, but pretty much the whole of the last half consisted of the aftermath. I also found that, despite the intriguing story, there were lots of moments wherein I felt as though I was re-reading the same sentences that I’d read previously within the book. This was down to the repetitive nature of the author in some instances. However, this is probably my only criticism of the book and, in general, it was an interesting read, full of plotting and surprises.

My Final Verdict

Overall, this is definitely a book that takes a little longer to read, but is certainly worth it for the story. In a way, it felt as though I was reading a true story, wrapped up in a fictional tale! Nevertheless, it is not a book I would recommend to everyone, as I feel it is very much a little niche of society who would enjoy such a novel.

Rating: 6/10

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