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! ❤