Saturday, May 31, 2014
Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Author: Donna Tartt
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content alert: The story takes place on a college campus, so it shouldn't be surprising that there's plenty of drug and alcohol use/abuse, allusions to an orgy or two, and swearing. Murder figures strongly too.
I think I've said before that Donna Tartt's name led me to believe she wrote romance instead of literary fiction. Consequently, I never read any of her novels until I devoured The Goldfinch in January. When I posted my review, so many people commented that they loved The Secret History, so I made it one of the first books I read as soon as I finished reading the Whitney novels. And while I wasn't captivated by it the same way I was with The Goldfinch, it was definitely worth reading.
Richard is a scholarship kid from a working-class family in a forgettable town in California who arrives as a transfer student at Hampden College (based on Tartt's alma mater, Bennington?) with not much to recommend himself other than a pretty great handle on Greek. However, the Greek program at Hampden is tiny, and all of the students are hand-selected by Professor Julian Morrow. Within a few weeks, Richard manages to ingratiate himself with the five Greek students and finds access to the program, and over the course of the year, he discovers that the students are hiding a huge secret, and they need his help if they're not going to be discovered.
While The Secret History is sometimes described as a mystery, I think it's much more a bildungsroman, or a character exploration along the lines of Dead Poets' Society or The Talented Mr. Ripley. It's an entertaining, fascinating, and sad novel, and one I'm happy that I took the time to read.