The book I chose to review today, The Secret History, by Donna Tartt is actually not in my niche, but I got so caught up in it that I had to share it with you all. The funny thing is that I almost gave up on the book about a chapter in, but I kept dutifully on. It had a lot of obscure references to Greek and Latin language as well as history so at first I was daunted.
First of all, I am not a Greek or Latin scholar or a student of comparative literature. Nor did I attend a fancy New England Ivy League school. I didn’t understand the occasional lines of Greek, Latin, and French in this book, and I’m not an intellectual snob (Okay, maybe I am just a little bit). But these small details don’t detract from the thoroughly enjoyable experience of reading the Secret History. If you appreciate a well-written, well-told story that entertains, has good character development, an intriguing story, and reveals more than a little about human nature, you’re going to like this book. As if that weren’t enough, there’s also a liberal dose of contempt for the rich, and who doesn’t enjoy that?! For those who’ve studied Greek, Latin, French or the classics, the story will be even more rewarding.
Tartt uses Richard, the most accessible character, to tell the story with ease and authenticity. The six main characters (all in their early twenties) live in their own insular world at a small New England upper crust college, studying the classics with one solitary professor. There’s Henry, the leader and probably the one most likely to succeed as a true scholar; Francis, the skittish hypochondriac; Charles and Camilla, the twins; Bunny, the obnoxious and ill-fated one of the bunch; and Richard, the California kid from the most humble background of all. At first, Richard can’t believe his great luck to fall in with such a gilded clique, but as usual, things are not as they appear.
Soon, the outer world intrudes (they bring this upon themselves, of course) and things fall apart. It’s the telling of the unraveling that grips you as Tartt deftly controls how much to tell and when. I marveled at her lush descriptions that rival a poet’s, her skill at narrative and dialogue, and her most revealing descriptions of human mannerisms and behavior. She repeatedly builds intrigue and tension all the way to the end of the 500+ pages of the novel. This is no easy task, but she makes it look effortless.
Don’t be put off by the setting and character types in this book. You don’t have to be a literary snob to understand or enjoy the story. It’s worth the time to read the book, and if you’re an aspiring writer, there is much here to educate and marvel at. I highly recommend the The Secret History.