review :: The Secret History

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt, is narrated by Richard Papen, a small-town California boy looking for escape, meaning, and sophistication by means of education. Richard arrives at a small, opulent university in Vermont, where he is immediately taken with a group of five Greek scholars–unapproachable and cerebral.

Richard manages to be welcomed into this cult-ish program, studying the Classics, in which the students are tutored by one (and only one) professor, a man revered almost as a deity by his entourage. Despite joining the group, Richard remains excluded from the intimacy amongst the others until he learns the secret that binds them all together.

In order to protect their secret, one of them has to die. Richard is pulled into the murder, an event that spirals them into emotional and psychological atrophy.

This is a story resplendent with detail. As a psychological thriller, it is mysterious and evocative, however, also fraught with some levels of improbability. For example, I always wondered–and still wonder upon finishing the novel–why Richard was so suddenly accepted into this elite clique of five. It seems to me there must have some reason for this, they they needed him, somehow. Even if only to use him.

The characters are not particularly likable, which I believe to be intentional, and I found myself disturbed at times by their detachment to the implications of acts they committed.

Any and all flaws aside, this is a fun and engaging read–the 500+ pages seem to go by in a flash.

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About Stephanie Carbajal

Creative freelancer living, working, and playing in the Pacific Northwest.
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