The Secret History by Donna Tartt

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“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.”

I have never read anything like this book in my entire life. I laid in bed for over an hour last night upon finishing this book, just tossing and turning and thinking about everything I just consumed. I still don’t think I can put my feelings into words, but I can honestly say this book was a cathartic experience for me, and the irony of the word “catharsis” being a Greek rooted word is not lost on me, because if this book is anything it’s a modern day Greek tragedy.

The Secret History is told in a unique style, which is a man reminiscing on some significant events that took place in his college life a bit over a year ago. So, we follow a younger version of Richard, who is finally starting his life away from his abusive and poor family in California. He gets accepted into an elite college in Vermont, and moves across the county in hopes of a fresh start.

Upon arriving to the college, Richard is denied entry into an Ancient Greek course, because the professor that teaches it only allows enrollment to his small, handpicked, group of students that seem almost cult-like. Needless to say, Richard becomes utterly obsessed with the five students in this group and the professor, Julian Morrow, himself. And with a turn of good luck, and by solving a Greek problem, Richard is accepted into this exclusive group.

Yet, in the prologue we find out that Richard, and four others from the group, murdered one of the other students who they are supposed to have a very close friendship with. The Secret History is then told in two parts, one being the events that took place leading up to the death of their fellow classmate, and then one part being all the events that take place after he is murdered.

Bunny is the poor soul that is unfortunately murdered by his peers, yet he’s a racist bigot and you’ll be kind of happy he’s dead, for the most part. Richard, as stated in all the paragraphs above, is the narrator looking back on the events that took place. Henry is my personal favorite, but perhaps the worst of the bunch. Or maybe the best, I’m not really sure, but that’s truly the beauty of this story. Twins, Charles and Camilla. Charles is a bad alcoholic and drug user, and Camilla steals most people’s heart and/or affection. And lastly, we have Francis, who owns a country home that is the stage for many events that take place in this book. Oh, and everyone but Richard has money, even though Richard tries his damnedest to keep that a secret.

“What we did was terrible, but still I don’t think any of us were bad, exactly; chalk it up to weakness on my part, hubris on Henry’s, too much Greek prose composition – whatever you like.”

All the characters are morally grey to just generally horrible people, but you completely ignore it because Donna Tartt weaves this hypnotic spell with her writing, that you feel like you are reading this book in a dream like lull. The Secret History is unlike anything I’ve ever read before, and I’m not sure I’ll ever read anything quite like it again.

I also want to touch upon sexuality in this book, because a lot of the members in this group are not straight in the slightest. Like, maybe the only ones that were completely straight were Bunny and Camilla. I’m not saying that the queerness in this book is vilified, but it’s for sure not shown in the best of lights. So please use caution while going into this.

And this book is so very heavy in general, so please use caution while reading. Content/Trigger warnings for slut shaming, use of the R word, homophobia, hate speech, fatphobic comments, racist comments, animal cruelty, sexual assault, incest, performing rituals, suicide, alcoholism, drug abuse, and murder.

I know this review is probably not one of my best, and I know I’m being super vague about all these big themes, but this book is just on a whole other level. Maybe this book is about five new adults dealing with the consequences of murder in a very human and realistic way. Maybe it’s about how we are all just trying to fit in and find family, by whatever unhealthy means available and/or possible. Maybe this book is about birth and death and how important the time between those two points truly is. But I do believe with my whole heart that this book would best be experienced blind, and to just go in and feel all the feelings that Donna Tartt will serve you.

While finishing the book, me and Paloma had a discussion about the ending and how Greek heroes’ tales normally go. We talked about how murder taints everything, and how blood is the only thing that can purify it. We talked about how wearing masks is so important, yet death is another mask that we will all eventually wear. God, I’m being so cryptic, but if you’ve read the book maybe this paragraph will mean something to you, because it means the world to me.

Overall, I know I sound like a broken record, but this was one of the most unique reading experiences of my life. I honest to God just do not have the words to put in this review how this book made me feel. I will say that it very much feels like a spell is being cast upon you while reading. Like, I am almost positive that Donna Tartt cannot be a human being, because she is such an exclusive enigma. Also, I think I’ve developed a huge crush on her, so there’s that at least. I can say very confidently that I will remember this book, and the feelings it gave me while reading, for the rest of my life.

“Beauty is rarely soft or consolatory. Quite the contrary. Genuine beauty is always quite alarming.”


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Buddy read with Paloma! ❤

47 thoughts on “The Secret History by Donna Tartt

      1. Hahaha! I was like “oh my gosh, I have to add her!” But then I was so scared you were going to be like “oh my gosh, this creep!” Hahahahaha! I am so happy you came up on mine! #blessed 💖

        Liked by 1 person

  1. I can say that I read this back in 1992 when it was released, and it has never left me. It’s that powerful of a story/reading experience. So glad you loved it, I seriously need to do a reread!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, this comment, Tammy… thank you. It’s only been 48 hours for me… but I feel like I turned the last page seconds ago. I can’t stop thinking about this book. I am in awe!

      Happy reading, love. 💖xx

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Read this as a 17-year old in ’96, loved every page, a great, great book. My mother is reading it right now, and she loves it too. Tried it again a couple of years ago, but could not get into the translation. I should get an English copy.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This story makes me so happy. I know it’s only been 48 hours, but I can’t stop thinking about this book! It’s… it is unlike anything else. But thank you for sharing this, and happy reading, love. 💖xx


    1. I truly think it’s a love it or hate it book… and maybe I feel a bit of both? It’s so strange! I don’t have words! But I’d be hesitant to recommend it… but PLEASE come talk with me after you finish! And happy reading, Shanah love! 💖xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Awh, thank you so much, Sophie love! This was… AN EXPERIENCE, so say the least. But I do think this is a love it or hate it book, so I’m scared to recommend… but I haven’t been able to think of anything else in the past 48 hours. So…. happy reading, love! 💖xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s such a hard book to recommend, because I think you’re going to love it or hate it. But… this comment makes me think you’d like it! BUT IT IS SUCH A WEIRD READING EXPERIENCE! But I always wish you the happiest of reading, love. 💗 xx

      Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s such a rough one to recommend! Hahaha. You are going to love it or hate it…. and it’s just so weird. And unlike anything. I don’t have words! Hahaha. But I’m SO excited for you to read it and to see what you think! Happy reading, love! 💗

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, love! Gosh, this one is such a hard one to recommend, because I truly think it’s a love it or hate it type book. But it’s also so unique! Ahhh! So many weird feels! Haha. But happy reading, love! ❤ xx

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’ve had a copy of this since last summer and I can’t wait to read it!!

    I literally had no idea there was queerness in this tho?? and I kinda want to hear your opinion: is this more of a “queer characters happen to be morally gray” or a “queer characters are Not Good People because they’re queer”? bc the former I’m cool with but I really hope it’s not the latter

    Liked by 1 person

    1. One of them, Francis, is kind of borderline villain because of it… because he forces the main character to kiss him (and maybe more if they didn’t get interrupted), but the rest was just… there? It’s very weird (this whole book truly is) but I wouldn’t say the rest of the queerness is painted in a good or bad light, it’s just… stated and kind of there. So I’d say one MAYBE not good because queer, and the rest are just morally grey and very sexually discovering queer. BUT the guy that is totally supposed to be “the villain” says very homophobic things (and racist and sexiest and everything else)!

      I’m sorry if this was a hot mess answer. This book is truly unlike anything else, and I just… WORDS ARE HARD! But if you pick it up… I hope you have a similar experience, because it’s unlike anything. 💘xx

      Liked by 1 person

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