“The Secret History” (Post 4/4)

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Chapter 7

 [131] References:

“The history of Theravada, Buddhism proper. One finds [mandala] features in reliquary mounds on the Gangetic plain.”



Theravada (Pali, literary “school of the elder monks”) is a branch of Buddhism that uses the Buddha’s teaching preserved in the Pali Canon as its doctrinal core.

The Indo-Gangetic Plain is a 255 million-hectare fertile plain encompassing most of northern and eastern India, the eastern parts of Pakistan and virtually all of Bangladesh.


No one had known him all that well but it was a strange feature of his personality that the less one actually knew him, the more one felt one did.

(p.380) Continue reading

“The Secret History” (Post 3/4)

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Book II

[99] Reference:

R. Dodds,

The Greeks and the Irrational



Eric Robertson Dodds (1893-1979) was an Irish classical scholar. In 1924, Dodds was appointed Professor of Greek at the University of Birmingham. In 1936, Dodds became Regius Professor of Greek at the University of Oxford. He had a lifelong interest in mysticism and psychic research, being a member of the council of Society for Psychical Research from 1927 and its president from 1961 to 1963. Among his works are The Greeks and the Irrational (1951), which charts the influence of irrational forces in Greek culture up to the time of Plato.

Chapter 6

 [100] Vocabulary:

With incarnadine axe.



A bright crimson or pinkish-red color.

Previously looked up for Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (note [93]) (so hopefully the definition sticks this time…) Continue reading

“The Secret History” (Post 2/4)

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Chapter 3

[49] References:

A reference work entitled Men of Thought and Deed, a six-volume work by E. Tipton Chesterfield, Rev., dating from the 1890s.


I cannot find reference to this work or author.

[50] Reference:

Somewhere, Bunny had heard that John Donne had been acquainted with Izaak Walton.



Izaak Walton (1593-1683) was an English writer. Best known as the author of The Compleat Angler, he also wrote a number of short biographies that have been collected until the title of Walton’s Lives. He became verger and churchwarden of St. Dunstan’s and a friend of the vicar, John Donne. Continue reading

“The Secret History” (Post 1/4)

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[1] Reference:

and for Paul Edward McGloin,

muse and Maecenas

(Dedication page)


Gaius Maecenas (68 BC – 8 BC) was an ally, friend and political advisor to Octavian (who was to become the first Emperor of Rome as Caesar Augustus) as well as an important patron for the new generation of Augustan poets, including both Horace and Virgil. His name has become a byword for a wealthy, generous and enlightened patron of the arts.

[2] Reference/Translate:

To Gary Fisketjon il miglior fabbro.

(Acknowlegments page)


Italian: the best blacksmith

T.S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land opens and closes with references to Dante and Arnaut Daniel. The Waste Land is dedicated to Ezra Pound as “il miglior fabbro” which is what Dante had called Daniel. Continue reading

“The Secret History” Introduction

SH Intro

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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

The Plot:

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.

“The Diving Pool”

Diving Pool

[Explanation of Reading Journal/Entries]

Three novellas by Yoko Ogawa, originally published in 1990-91 and translated by Stephen Snyder in 2008. I read a Picador paperback from my great, wonderful library.

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3 out of 5 stars (averaged).

Times Read: 1

My second Ogawa outing (after Revenge). I’m getting a handle on her style and liking it quite a lot. These stories, like all in Revenge, are told in first person. The language is straightforward and full of somewhat universal elements (food, weather, animals) while giving very few cultural-specific references (I think the only city mentioned by name is Tokyo). I can’t remember the last author I had to look up so few references for. It makes Ogawa’s work extremely accessible.

Ogawa’s translator, Stephen Snyder, is also very good. The stories don’t feel translated. The sentences are smooth and clear, the images (even surreal ones) conveyed well. Continue reading

“Fever Dream”

Fever Dream

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Samanta Schweblin’s 2017 novel, translated the same year by Megan McDowell. I read a first edition Riverhead Books hardcover from the library.

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5 out of 5 stars.

Times Read: 1

The Plot:

Amanda, dying at a medical center, speaks with David, a young, mysterious boy.

A book called Fever Dream could easily descend into confusing surrealistic madness, but Schweblin has built a fascinating tale into the scaffolding of deathbed conversation. I always understood, visually, what was occurring even when the characters were shrouded in mystery.

Fever Dream is the most effectively terrifying and unsettling piece of fiction I’ve ever read. Every moment is charged with fear. Something terrible is coming. Something murderous, poisonous, or tragic. Doom is approaching but from where?

Credit to Megan McDowell, as well. Preserving tension, clarity, and author voice while translating is an impressive feat. Continue reading