The secret history

by Donna Tartt

Hardcover, 1992

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Knopf : Distributed by Random House, 1992.

Description

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 forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

Media reviews

As a ferociously well-paced entertainment, ... "The Secret History" succeeds magnificently. Forceful, cerebral and impeccably controlled, "The Secret History" achieves just what Ms. Tartt seems to have set out to do: it marches with cool, classical inevitability toward its terrible conclusion.

User reviews

LibraryThing member atheist_goat
I went to a small, elite, liberal arts college. So naturally many, if not most, of my fellow students were insanely into this book. They owned multiple copies, referenced it all the time, and I am down upon my knees every morning and evening giving thanks that the concept of internet slash fiction was not really around yet.

Finally, post-college, I was given my own copy by someone who'd been pressing me to read it for years. And I had a free evening and some popcorn, so I took the plunge. For three swooning hours I tore through the pages, finally closed it, took a deep breath, and thought, "This does not bode well for virtually all my current friendships."

This book is TERRIBLE. Not one character is sympathetic or realistic, not one line of dialogue would ever be uttered by a human being (and bear in mind I have experienced something like a thousand hours of conversation between pretentious overeducated drunk college students), and the Big Secret Horrifying Act is giggle-provoking even if you don't know any classics majors. If you do, then it's fall-on-the-floor hilarious; in that situation, my money would be on the farmer.

Avoid. If you must read about rich pretentious college students with issues, read Brideshead Revisited, which I find annoying but is at least well written. Follow that with The Bacchae and you're good: all Tartt's influences, none of her writing.
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LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
This is one of my all-time favorite books. I've read it numerous times since it first came out and I enjoy it every single time and every single time I am so sorry to finish it. It belongs to what I think of as a trio of books about school along with Waking the Moon by Elizabeth Hand and Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Let me be clear - these books are nothing alike - the only thing they have in common is their college setting. In a way, though, they are alike - they each deal with Dionysian events and their consequences in closed and exclusive college settings.

The Secret History isn't so much a whodunit as a whydunit - you know the who immediately, the why is somewhat more mysterious (and in many ways is never fully revealed). I love the sweeping romanticism of this book - set at fictional Hampden College in the eighties. I was in college at the same time and some of the characters are familiar - the punk rockers, the druggies, the incredibly annoying hippies. Our hero is a California transplant, at college on scholarship and thrust into a small group of privileged students studying the Classics with the enigmatic Julian Morrow.

This is a winter book - cold at its heart, colder in its setting. There are deaths and funerals and philosophizing - lots of masks constantly worn. At its center is the narrator, Richard, and his love of the picturesque and Henry, who may or may not be a psychopathic killer. In this reading I found Julian Morrow to be the most chilling character - he is the old man in the road with the answers you probably won't like once you get them.

If you haven't read this, it's worth reading. Donna Tartt is a good writer and a good storyteller (a worthwhile combination). It takes her forever to write a book (this one took 8 years). Her second book, The Little Friend, is an odd Southern gothic that I also enjoyed, although it doesn't have the staying power of the first. It was 10 years between the first and second novel. Her third novel is due out in 2012. I'll be interested to see how she gets past her sophomore slump.
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LibraryThing member blackjacket
Proof of the author's skill at crafting a suspenseful tale is that the murder is revealed on the first page, yet I read on. Nor are the main characters particularly appealing, but I allowed myself to become absorbed in their solipsistic, arrogant world nonetheless.
Greek classicism is really just an intellectual prop for the students to appear aloof - this is not a novel of ideas per se. There is one or two references at the beginning about Greek ideas underpinning the bacchanal that kills the farmer, but, again, these are not essential to the story, just an exotic way to do a killing and accentuate the overinflated sense of superiority these students have.
I was waiting for the professor Julian Morrow to be fleshed out more, or at least to hear some of his profound utterances that made him such a figure of respect and awe for the students, but the reader is denied any real flashes of wisdom. Even Henry, a genius at translation, seems oddly ordinary in his speech.
Despite it's length, I can see why people re-read this, for the first time the plot pulls you forward. I imagine subsequent readings would allow the reader to pay attention more to the friendships, the moments where decisions are made, and the gestures that point to greater turmoil, for it is a novel of great attention to detail and luxuriates in creating atmosphere.
Other mediums have done similar tales with much greater tautness - Hitchcock's thrilling Rope springs to mind, while the charm and faint menace behind Henry's self assuredness reminded me of Patricia Highsmith's writing.
Despite my quibbles, I felt real pleasure reading this. Yes, they are dreary uni students who spend their days smoking, drinking and staring out from rain drizzled windows, but the world Donna Tartt creates is a richly textured one and I appreciated the ride on this different kind of thriller.
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LibraryThing member ropie
The plot of The Secret History is straightforward and quite predictable. It's the way in which Donna Tartt draws the reader very, very slowly into the world of her Classics students, however, revealing facets of their characters and lives, which made the novel work for me. The fictional collegiate environment of Hampden, Vermont, seemed to be a perfect backdrop for the growing feeling of paranoia and deathly-ness that surrounds the main characters. In actual fact, the disparity between the grandeur of high academia and the reality of the sleepy town is really what initiates the series of catastrophes that propel the novel. I knew nothing of this book when I bought it and was hoping for an easy, entertaining read, in the manner of Stephen King. I was not disappointed; in fact I was engrossed for a whole week.… (more)
LibraryThing member Meredy
Six-word review: Marked forever by one evil deed.

Extended review:

I recently read The Rabbit Back Literature Society, by Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen. On the cover of the hardback edition is a blurb that says: "Mixes the small-town surrealism of Twin Peaks with the clandestine-society theme of Donna Tartt's The Secret History." --The List (UK)

Having enjoyed Rabbit Back, I found this tantalizing. I hadn't read The Secret History, but I'd read The Goldfinch and, despite some exasperation with its bloated size, I was willing to take another chance on its very capable author. So on my next visit to a real brick-and-mortar bookstore I purchased a copy in order to make a small but not negligible statement with my $16.00.

And here's my conclusion about that blurb: comparing Rabbit Back to this feat of fiction is sort of like saying "If you liked Disney's Aladdin, you'll love the Mahabharata." There's a difference of at least two orders of magnitude.

Which is not to fault Rabbit Back for being what it is, but only to say that these are not two things of a kind except in the merest manner.

In fact, as I (inevitably) allowed my mind to riffle through apt comparisons, the first phrase that occurred to me was "a high tale of love and of death." That's from the opening line of The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, in the classic 1913 translation by Hilaire Belloc of the twelfth-century legend. Even though the two works are superficially nothing alike, I find the latter to be a more apt parallel for Donna Tartt's first novel than the lightweight, whimsical, and ultimately unsatisfying Rabbit Back.

Both Tristan and Iseult and The Secret History are deep dramas of passion and error, of flawed humanity and its sometimes beautiful waywardness. Both possess a mythic quality of fatefulness and inevitability. Both deal in the big questions and in how people answer them with their deeds, their minds, their souls.

It would not do to take the comparison too far. The medieval tale has had a lasting effect on our Western culture and its literature that no contemporary novel is likely to have. It is short, 96 pages in my Dover edition, compared with 559 for the Tartt novel. And its principals are led by love and by a code of honor that has little in common with a misguided impulse to murder in the name of loyalty and self-preservation. Nonetheless, The Secret History strikes a resonant chord, perhaps because it too is a tragedy, and perhaps because there lurks behind it a sense of deities at play, amusing themselves with the sufferings of their mortal playthings, unhampered by any constraints that resemble human morality.

As in The Goldfinch, the author has a spellbinding way of depicting the inner life of her main character. I found myself asking the hard question: under those circumstances, how far might I have gone? How sure am I that I would not have done what they did, would never have fallen under the sway of a charismatic leader? What makes me think that I am any less flawed and weak than those who allowed themselves to commit that one evil deed?

The intoxicating and morally disfiguring experience of admission into an exclusive circle dominated by an aberrant personality: this is territory that has been explored many times. Other recent ventures into this terrain include Dismantled, The Bellwether Revivals, and The Likeness. None that I have seen is rendered more compellingly than The Secret History, a tale of love and death that is not unimaginably remote from where we live.
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LibraryThing member BrianDewey
Tartt, Donna. The Secret History. Fawcett Columbine, New York, 1992. This novel started so promising. I loved the densely literary beginning. I loved the characters and the plot. I found myself fantasizing about living this type of life, no matter how perverse it might have been. But thenthe bacchanaian ritual that forms the central tragedy of the book is never really developed. And the entire second half of the book is a disapointing d. I kept waiting for the unexpected event: that never came. If the book ended with the first half, it would have been much better.… (more)
LibraryThing member booksbooks11
Engaging characters who were just at some times annoying and a little hard to accept, but still I was totally hooked and made a great holiday read. Follows a group of undergraduates into a path we know in some particular circumstance any of us could follow and that what makes it so compelling. The comparison to Crime and Punishment is justified but a little disturbing to me as it really didn't have the same depth of penetration into the soul of the protaginst. Having just read a few other reviews, I have to agree with the negative one, I wasn't aware of any hype over this book so my expectations were not that high, had they been I think I would have been similarly peeved. It's not literature, just an interesting story and the characters sometimes make it off the page but not always.… (more)
LibraryThing member Brianna_H
The Secret History has the best written characters I have encountered in a long time. This is a book that will keep you up all night because you just CANNOT stop reading it. While reading The Secret History, I found myself almost (I said ALMOST) wishing that I was right there in the story with them, sitting in Professor Julian Morrow's classics class, having cocktails with Henry, smoking cigarettes with Camilla. The Secret History is a suspenseful mystery novel and an engrossing character study. It is intelligent and smacks of academia. Read this book if you love novels set in colleges, as I do, or if you simply love mysteries or gripping stories in general.… (more)
LibraryThing member bonniemarjorie
'I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.'

I was pretty blown away at how much I enjoyed this. It took me almost an entire month to read (which is practically unheard of for me) but this is one that you definitely can't zoom right through in my opinion. Incredibly detailed and enthralling, I'm really glad that I paced myself and took my time because this is one to be savored.

Truly compelling, you already know from the very first line what's to come:

'The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.'

All of the characters were vibrant and completely unforgettable. Despite knowing exactly what's to come, the beauty of this story is the slow unraveling process that the author takes you through, detailing each and every step the friends took to get to that final moment. I can definitely see why this one is considered a modern classic.
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LibraryThing member ReginaR
This book embodies everything that I love in fiction, it is a perfect example of why I love to read. Every word and phrase that appears on the pages of this book (and it is pages, as this book is not available in ebook format as of yet!) is so beautiful and so rich. Everytime I sat down to read this book, I felt as if I was in the midst of eating a perfectly cooked filet mignon and a very rich but salty potato side dish accompanied by a strong red wine. This book was a true treat for my senses. It is a character driven book, the characters are central and the tale is about them – not about their surroundings or their events. It is the characters that rule this tale. So what was this book about? Excess, consumption, greed, selfishness, loss of innocence, pack think and ego maniacs – sound delicious?

The setting for this tale is a small, secluded (and mythical) Vermont liberal arts college populated by elite students. The story is told from the point of view of a male transfer student who is running from his blue collar background and his disinterested parents. He escapes into a group of students who have further secluded themselves from the student body even more in this remote environment. Richard – the protagonist – begins to study classics, focusing on Greek and attempts to pretend he is someone he is not - privileged, wealthy, elite. The circle of friends he finds himself among, appear to all be very wealthy and focused on academics in a way that is very odd for modern college students. They are extremely insular, not willing to permit anyone into their ranks. Richard, now admitted after he demonstrates his knowledge of ancient Greek, begins crafting himself in the image of those around him. The opening scene (in fact the prologue) begins with a murder scene, there is no mystery here. The reader knows who dies and how. The murderers are clear, there is no question as to motive. The focus of the story are the events leading up to the murder and the murders aftermath on its participants. What Tartt unwraps for the reader is a very disturbing tale. Will a need to fit in trump morality? What needs to happen for a person to separate from a group focused on hurting those around them? Or will most people just follow the group, no matter the evil effects on those around them? What is the greater good – is it the survival of a group of friends? The story is about loss of innocence, the extreme focus inward to the neglect of else, and group think. It is a beautiful and haunting tale. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute spent reading this book.

Readers who enjoyed Tana French’s The Likeness, will enjoy this book.
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LibraryThing member kszym
Our outsider protagonist, Richard, manages to impress the elitist classics professor at Hampden College (a renamed Bennington). He begins taking nearly all of his classes with this professor and his five other students - Henry, Francis, Bunny, and the twins Charles and Camilla. They drink and become friends and smoke and drink and hang out at a mountain home and drink and the home has a lake that they drink by and they smoke and wear suits and drink and wave to the groundskeeper and pour themselves another drink.

There's also some murder.

And one of the characters has a pince nez that he peers through. He doesn't even need glasses! He just wears a pince nez because he's that pretentious.

That's what the book felt like - pretentious but useless. There are a lot of classy allusions, the kids speak Greek to each other; the novel can be read as a tale of the Nietzschean struggle between action and stagnation, the strong and the weak. There are multiple epigraphs that suggest as much.

At its heart, though, it's basically a beach read. Written in the first person from some point in the future, it reads like gossip. It's dishy. There are crazed bacchanalian rituals. There's a lot of Scotch. There are rich people getting away with murder(s).

Anyway, I did like this book. It didn't really work as Literature, but it was enjoyable - it just would've been more enjoyable if it'd lost about 100 pages and occasionally swayed more toward the denim than the wool trousers.
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LibraryThing member zenamidievel
I saw this referenced as one of many people's favorite books on a message board. I started it and had trouble making myself finish it. It was predictable and none of the characters were likeable or intriquing. I couldn't care about any of them, what they did or what happened to them.
LibraryThing member Oandthegang
For four days I'd had a cough which was keeping my neighbours awake, and in the small hours reminding me of the need to draw up a will. Exhausted and in pain, I staggered to the nearest heap of books in search of diversion which might, like fine concert performance, hold the hellish hacking at bay. I pulled out The Secret History. The title was vaguely familiar, but I'd read no reviews and so came to it with an open mind.

I was struck by what a nice book the April 2004 Vintage Contemporaries paperback edition is - pleasant in the hand, flexible but robust, and well printed. So, on to the novel itself, whose narrator recalls those bright college days of drink and drugs and poverty during which an isolated group of classicists immersed themselves too deeply in their studies. We know from the outset that Bunny was murdered. We know that Henry and the narrator were two of the murderers, and that after the event the killers walked in single file through the Vermont woods, piled into their car, and started 'down the road like a family on vacation'. There are many comfortable and familiar elements in The Secret History: the New England college setting, the huge country house with family retainers, the impoverished outsider, the closed elite whose friendship he craves, privilege, power, intelligence, and beauty. Other works came to mind: 'Rope', 'The Glade Within The Grove', Brideshead, the narrator himself invokes Gatsby. There are many more, but ultimately this work stands by itself. Looking back over it I am amazed at how early in its 559 pages a major revelation is made, considering how much had happened before that point. Others will have posted proper literary critiques. I will just add that I was so reluctant to put the novel down that I was quarter of an hour late for my weekly appointment with Forbrydelsen III, allowed at least one supper to go cold, and my cough was kept substantially at bay for most of the time that I was reading. It is now nearly six hours since I finished The Secret History, it's getting late, and the cough is coming back. Off to load up with ice cream before scanning the pile of unread books. Or I might just start reading this one again.
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LibraryThing member RachelWeaver
I really resent the time I spent on this book. I don't know what I was thinking. I had read a couple hundred pages of this book on a trip a few years ago and never got around to picking it back up afterward, so I never finished it. It has such a reputation as a landmark literary mystery, the kind that always gets shelved in Fiction or even Literature and never in a bookstore's Mystery ghetto, and though I remember the experience of reading it the first time being almost as annoying as it was engrossing, I decided to pick it up again. The two main reasons I had were the two books I had just read--Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl, and The Likeness by Tana French. Both books feature a strangely tight-knit, cerebral, elitist group of friends with a surrounding murder mystery--clearly these authors both owed something to this famous book by Donna Tartt. And having loved both of these books (the first as a throughly literary read, the second as an astonishingly well-drawn mystery novel), I felt compelled to go to the source. Boy, do I regret that decision. I'm not saying it was an entirely unenjoyable read. It is engrossing, it does have its moments of good writing and haunting mystery. But mostly it's just lurid trash disguised as literature by its numerous quotations in classical Greek. Its plot is thoroughly improbable, its characters are flat cardboard cutouts of human beings that walk around like zombies drinking, smoking, and doing drugs with ever-increasing voraciousness to the point where you have to wonder if they are in fact robots because it's the only possible explanation why they're all not dead yet. In the end, I don't know whether to blame my hatred for this book on the author or on the hype. I've certainly read and forgiven the faults of thinner mystery novels than this one, but this book has been wrapped in so much pretentious hype, that it can only end up looking like complete garbage on closer examination.… (more)
LibraryThing member karensaville
Set in a university it is the story of a small elite group of students taking an obscure course with a tutor. They are all very different characters, most of them wealthy and with seemingly low morals compared to the average person. A terrible thing happens which they decide to keep a secret and the book charts the fallout of their actions. I first read this in the 90's and was totally captivated by it, I couldn't wait to reread it and share it with my book club. Now that I'm older I couldn't quite connect with it in the same way and it did not have the same impact on the first time readers. could have been because the book we had just finished was also set in a university?… (more)
LibraryThing member stretch
This novel was a great read. It's not the greatest novel ever written, and I don't think it tries to be. I really enjoyed reading this book but I think it had a few hiccups and slow points (it would have been nice if it had been a little more plot driven).

The approach of telling the reader about the murder and who committed such a horrendous act right from the start and its subsequent fall out was a unique angle that was a nice switch from the typical suspense novel. The pretentious nature of this book and its characters is hard to overlook. I found it amazing that a character driven novel could have so many despicable characters and still be enjoyable. I find it hard to imagine a bigger collection of snobs and shallow people. Hampden college certainly plays into ever stereotype of a rich, private Liberals arts college imaginable. I think this hurt the book in the end, but allowed the despicable traits to flourish in such an environment. In any other setting this novel wouldn’t work. In the end snobbish intellectuals with no redeeming value, in a college where nothing but money and position matter, something like a petty murder or two and its subsequent cover up fits.

Now the hiccups, one the more persistent problems for me was establishing a consistent time period. Cultural events seemed to place it in the early 90’s or late 80’s. But the students dress and actions, like listening to music that their parents listened to, the lack of television, or recreation doesn’t seem to fit college students in the early 90’s. Then there’s the rampant drug and alcohol use, being so intoxicated on such a regular basis makes it hard to believe that any coherent plan to cover up or plan a murder is even possible. I also found the homosexual and incestral undertones a bit hard to accept. Maybe its apart of the whole ancient Greek emersion and fit the tragic Greek comedy theme, but still I found it to be a little to overt and over the top. The last annoyance was the frequent injection of foreign languages instead of English. Most of the time it was pretty easy to get at what she was trying to say but at times she was inconsistent and at times left me scratching my head at key points in the story.

I know this review isn’t exactly glowing, it really was a good read. I really don’t know what to say or feel about this book.
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LibraryThing member bjgoff689
This is a favorite re-read, great when new library books disappoint etc. (if I could only take 3 books on vacation with me, this would be one of them). Wonderfully written first novel with strong characters and plotting. I am glad no attempt has been made to adapt this for the screen (yet), because there is not a single actor I can think of who could play Henry. Not the way I picture him.… (more)
LibraryThing member scofer
Tartt’s suspenseful and riveting first novel is one of my favorite books. I’ve re-read it three times and stayed up much of the night reading it the first time around. I could not put it down, which is the highest compliment I can give to a book. Told from the perspective of Richard, a newcomer to a small college in New England who becomes part of a clique of six students at a small college in New England who are handpicked by their professor to study the classics. The story involves an accidental death, the cover-up and the murder of one of the members of the clique (this is not a spoiler - Tartt reveals this much in the first part of the book). It’s a compelling read with well developed characters. I anxiously await Tartt’s next book, although will admit I was let down by her second book The Little Friend … perhaps my expectations were set too high?… (more)
LibraryThing member lycomayflower
A well-written and reasonably compelling exploration of the situation leading to a murder of a young man by his friends and the repercussions emotionally and psychologically for the murderers (the murder is revealed on the first page; the fact of it is a given from the beginning). I say "reasonably compelling" because while I remained interested in the novel and its outcome throughout, I found the whole premise somewhat tiring and claustrophobic by the two-thirds mark and because I'm not sure what to do with the thing now I'm finished. The group of friends The Secret History follows is made up of somewhat strange characters, all set apart from their fellow college students in some way (smarter or richer or poorer or more stuck up), and the six main characters form an elite but unenvied group of Classics scholars by dint of being selected by the campus Greek scholar to study with him. But it is never clear whether their ability to murder (and to follow one of their group in particular, who is the calculating force behind all the trouble they find themselves in) is a function of their oddities, or of their immersion in Classics, or of the influence of their instructor (who we are told is sort of the epitome of liberal artsy genius professorship but who reads as particular but not particularly special on the page), or their actual similarities to most other people. It is perhaps unfair to feel that the novel must do something in this way, must reveal something about the nature of murder--especially since the novel excels as character study--but its very nature seems to insist upon being about the ability to murder, even if it seems not to offer any sharp understanding of the subject. A decent read, and extremely well crafted, but somewhat disappointing in the end.… (more)
LibraryThing member paghababian
Love, love, love this book. Love. Should I say it again? Love! Tartt's descriptions of a strange group of outsiders and a cold Vermont college bring this book to life. These people are my (deranged) friends, and I feel badly when I get to the end of the book and have to say goodbye to them (even though I know I will be back to reread them again soon).

The story is about a handful of enigmatic Classics majors who take their studies a bit too far... It is told first-person as a flashback by Richard, who is reluctantly allowed admittance to the group, and we are carried along as he learns of the deceits of the people he had come to think of as his friends.
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LibraryThing member hippietrail
This book is good but it started off great. As it progresses I'm finding that bit by bit it sheds more of its literary pretensions and reveals itself as not much more than a gussied-up crime novel. I find the characters' names distractingly schlocky but also the styles and vocabularies used by the narrative, and the various characters tend to jar a little. I've had a tough time pinning down the era. The students mostly use outdated language which suits them, but that jarrs with eighties valley-talk from others, and constant mention of hippies. I also find it odd that when somebody quotes Ancient Greek, it might appear in the book translated into English, transliterated, or in Greek script.

Another thing which annoyed me was some very female observations coming from what is supposed to be a male narrator/protagonist. How many blokes know a "clutch" is a type of handbag?

These are all minor points to be sure and I'll certainly read more by this author when I have the chance. I think she has potential beyond what we see here.
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LibraryThing member lahochstetler
I absolutely adored Tartt's other novel, The Little Friend, and I had high hopes for this one too. I was not disappointed. The novel tells the story of five students at an elite New England liberal arts college. All of the students are tremendously, unusually devoted to their studies, and this devotion leads them to tragedy as they murder first, an outsider, and then one of their own. The fact of the murders is not the suspenseful part of the plot. Indeed, the murder of one of the group's own is revealed on the first page. Rather, the interest, intruige, and suspense comes in how the students cope with the knowledge of what they've done. Their suspicion, fear, and even some remorse wreak havoc and lead the group to an even more tragic climax. The main characters in this book are Classics students, and indeed, the book itself reads much like a Greek tragedy, with precipitous decline, and knowledge thereof.

Donna Tartt is a phenomenal storyteller. She creates plots that are deep, rich, and complex. Much like The Little Friend, The Secret History is a highly psychological book. I was absolutely gripped by this book from beginning to end.
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LibraryThing member lorilyn
Donna Tartt is a masterful writer and this is one smart, compelling book.
LibraryThing member SqueakyChu
This book grabs you psychologically right from the start! This book is as tight in tension as anything I’ve ever read. In it you find yourself immersed in the character of the somewhat misfit student among high-brow intellectuals with a darker side. Since we know from the opening pages of the book that one of the members of this group ends up being murdered, it is with great hesitancy that we continue to read. It like a dark shadow that accompanies the pages. Excellent technique by the author. It works extremely well!… (more)
LibraryThing member jimgysin
A small liberal arts college in Vermont is the setting for this one. A California kid of modest means hooks up with a very small group of trust fund undergrads and begins to study the classics. In nonlinear fashion, we find out who dies on the first page, and we know who did it and why before the midpoint of the story. Call it an extra credit project that goes horribly wrong. So this thing really isn't a mystery per se. Rather, the first half could be considered to have some mystery elements while the second half would be more of a psychological study of what happens to a closely knit group of people when the unthinkable happens. Overall, I liked the setting and the story, but the characters were just too much. I could handle the fact that the students seemed to have money to burn, as it was made clear that this was a school where rich kids were sent when they didn't have a lot of other options left. But in addition to their rarefied lifestyles, the kids just weren't likable. Not that they were *un*likable, but they just didn't merit the sort of emotional investment that would have kept me concerned and worried about their respective fates. Without exception, each was a selfish, self-absorbed, spoiled, navel-gazing twit who was overly fond of some combination of nicotine, alcohol, and other even worse chemicals. Actually, the fact that I liked them to any extent at all is a testament to Tartt's skills as a writer. Still, it didn't stop me from hoping that one or more of them might end up pancaked by a Greyhound bus, or some such thing. And while that didn't happen to anyone, I was glad that Tartt didn't take an easy or trite way out when it came to the various character resolutions. In short, I was hoping for a lot more from this one, and what I was given was not completely satisfying, with the failings falling entirely on the characterizations side of the equation.… (more)

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