REVIEW: The Secret History

Donna Tartt


Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

The main selling point of The Secret History is that instead of being a book that makes us wonder who committed the crime, it’s a book that makes wonder why it was committed to begin with. In fact, the first thing you find out about is how Bunny’s murder happened. The rest of the novel explains the motivation behind the crime and the aftermath of it.

Here are the things I liked about the book. First off, it’s really well written. Either Donna Tartt has studied how exactly people at liberal arts’ colleges act and speak, or she’s spent a lot of time around them, because the dialogue in this novel is probably the most authentic thing about it. The second thing I liked is that all of the characters have pretty distinct personalities, as they should in a novel like this. It’s pretty obvious that Donna Tartt is knowledgeable about the murder mystery genre, and it shows in her writing.

I don’t want to ruin it, but there’s a central tension in the first half of the novel which makes it practically impossible to stop reading the book. There are just enough clues to keep you drawn in. It never feels like Tartt is using heightened emotions to make you get lost in the novel, though. She drops a fact here, a small incident there, and it works so well.

All of that stuff results in a novel that’s as smart as it is thrilling. There’s a lot to like here, and I’m looking forward to reading more novels by Donna Tartt.




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