[Explanation of Journal Entries/Ratings]
Post 1: Prologue, Chapters 1 – 2
Post 2: Chapters 3 – 5
Post 3: Chapter 6
Post 4: Chapters 7 – 8
Donna Tartt’s debut novel, published in 1992. I read a 2004 Vintage Contemporaries Edition from the library.
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4.5 out of 5 stars.
Times Read: 1
A young Californian is drawn to a selective Greek studies group at a prestigious Vermont college. Bad things ensue.
I was immediately smitten with the style of this book. I haven’t felt this way since reading The Magus for the first time and The Secret History is very much a spiritual cousin to The Magus: a snooty, classical Greek snob, sort-of asshole narrator who places one unobtainable female on a pedestal while finding all others shallow and repulsive. Julian, the Greek teacher and philosophical leader of the The Secret History‘s main circle, is Tartt’s version of Fowles’ Conchis. But unlike Fowles, Tartt keeps her references to a minimum. She’s not showing off her knowledge; she understands what can be expected to be known by the average reader and does an excellent job developing the students’ and teacher’s interests (and their conversations) without alienating her audience.
I knew nothing about the book other than the description on the back: a group of students at a Vermont college descend from “obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.” If that sounds interesting at all, don’t read anything more about it, just find a copy and start reading. Going in without knowing what’s going to happen, with no cultural references to spoil anything, is a magical experience.
And if you’re thinking, “Whoa, how have you never heard of The Secret History? It’s a goddamn classic!” I have absolutely no idea. I was seven when it was published, so a bit too young to take note of literary hits, but I grew up in Vermont, about an hour from Bennington College (where Tartt drew inspiration for Hampden College). At some point, I should have had The Secret History on my radar. Hell, I read Bret Easton Ellis’ The Rules of Attraction for exactly the same reasons (Ellis went to Bennington College at the same time as Tartt and the two books reference each other).
Better late than never, I suppose, but hell, I wish I had this book in my life for the past decade.