The Secret History is the story of six Classics students at Hampden College, New England. It is told through the eyes of Richard Papen, a financial aid student from California desperately trying to escape the banal life his parents wish for him. When Richard arrives at Hampden, he is told of an elitist group of students taught by Julian M. Naturally, he wants to join. Little did he know, this reckless decision would result in dire consequences that would haunt him and his new ‘friends’ for the rest of his life.
First of all, this book is pretty damn long. It may not look like much, but it’s actually over 600 pages long. I don’t know many authors who could sustain a gripping story throughout all those pages but Donna Tart does it magnificently. There was not a single part of this story when I didn’t feel engaged and enthralled by the plot. I guarantee you will be in one of two states when reading this novel: tearing through the pages, desperate to find out what happens; or slowly savouring Tart’s beautiful writing, never wanting to reach the end of this story. Tart has this way of lulling you into a false sense of security and then ripping everything you thought you knew out at the seams.
The are seven main characters: Henry, Richard, Charles, Camilla, Francis, Bunny and Julian, their teacher. They are all despicable human beings and yet there’s something about them that draws you in. I guess that’s exactly how Richard got sucked into their elitist little group in the first place. Each member of the group has their own eccentricities that you discover as the story unfolds and nothing is as it first seems. Each character has their own secrets but what’s most interesting is the relationship between all of them. These characters are tied together by some sort of twisted bond that is completely captivating. They are all flawed but it is not until the very end of the story that you find out just how messed up they all are.
I totally agree with the assertion that The Secret History is a modern classic. Instead of making us wonder what’s going to happen, Donna Tart makes us fear it. We are told right from the outset that a murder has occurred and from then on you’re anticipating it, looking over your shoulder to check if the murderer is coming to get you. The author and her characters draws strongly from Greek myths, little too strongly given what happens to them and the group ends up becoming something of a modern myth themselves.
To conclude, Donna Tart is now ranked amongst my favourite authors. Her work is both twisted and beautiful at the same time dealing with friendship, love, desire, hedonism, jealousy and tragedy. She tells a dark story but she tells it so well you can’t help but be entranced. There were a few sections that made me feel physically sick and others that I’ve put to memory amongst some of my favourite quotes. The characters themselves are Tart’s greatest triumph and there is no way that you won’t find yourself completely wrapped up in their story, both wishing you were part of their little group and thankful that you’re not. A must-read for all.
Have you read The Secret History? Who is your favourite character?