The Secret History by Donna Tartt
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS!
Addition: Paperback, borrowed from friend
Rating: 4 out of 5
A misfit at an exclusive New England college, Richard finds kindred spirits in the five eccentric students of his ancient Greek class. But his new friends have a horrific secret. When blackmail and violence threaten to blow their privileged lives apart, they drag Richard into the nightmare that engulfs them. And soon they enter a terrifying heart of darkness from which they may never return.
My friend lent this book to me, telling me it was her favourite book. This book therefore had a lot to live up too! My Mum has also read this book and although enjoyed it felt it was too long and by page 500 was ready for it to finish. I went into this book with mixed feelings – my main thoughts being “I hope I enjoy this as Emily loves it” and “man, this is a big book with small print!” I have to say, I did really enjoy this book!
The story follows Richard, a young man from California who is wanting to escape his family. He arrives at Hampton College – on the opposite Coast to his parents and is quickly seduced into a life with the Greek students – Henry, Francis, Charles, Camilla and Bunny. However, all is not as it seems. They are secretive and sometimes weird, hiding a dark secret. Henry, the leader of this group, finally opens up and tells Richard what has happened: whilst trying out an ancient experiment – to completely lose oneself – they accidently kill a farmer on his land. They keep this secret hidden, except from Bunny, another in the group, who is starting to really grate on their nerves. He jokes about it, makes reference to the murder, and eventually tells Richard, thinking he doesn’t know. This is the final straw for Henry, who plots Bunny’s death. All of them are there when Henry pushes Bunny over the edge of the cliff. The story follows the remaining 5, showing how this completely messes up their lives.
I found this book slow to begin with. The first 100 or so pages follow Richard in California and then the Greek lessons at Hampton College. I found this a struggle to read – I have never studied the Greek classics and often found what I was reading going completely over my head. I honestly couldn’t tell you what it had to do with the story as I didn’t get it at all! This book is one that I would call “an intelligent read”. You have to pay attention and it doesn’t read quickly. It is also long – the addition I read was 629 pages! Once I got past page 100 or so, I was hooked but I did find the beginning a challenge.
I thought this was a fascinating read. It gives a glimpse into a crazy college world – filled with drink and drugs. It shows how people can be influenced by teachers and what they are taught – and how friends can manipulate you too. Henry leads everything – from the experience in the woods which leads to the first murder, to keeping Bunny quiet, to how to hide what they had done to Bunny. I was undecided most of the way through the book about Henry – he cold and silent, and then nursed Richard back to health when he had pneumonia. He was messed up by what he spent his time reading and also fairly grumpy! By the end I didn’t like him much.
This is an interesting read. I didn’t really like the characters and I found the beginning tough, but I was intrigued by the prologue – commenting on Bunny’s death, and I desperately wanted to know what happened. I was mildly surprised by the ending. They were never found out, although we did see how murder completely destroyed their lives. Henry ends up committing suicide, Camilla and Charles stop speaking and Charles becomes an alcoholic, Francis is consumed by fear and anxiety and Richard takes too many pills, drinks a lot and hides away. I was surprised that they weren’t caught but this was a fascinating ending.
This is an exceptionally well written book and very enjoyable. I would highly reecommend this book – even if I did find the beginning hard!