Do you know those books where you hate every single character and spend the whole book wanting to smack them across the face? You do?! Good, because The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of those kinds of books.
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.
This book is written as one of those reverse murder mysteries. The story opens with the main character, Richard, basically writing the story of how he and a group of friends in college killed their friend, Bunny Corcoran. You immediately start off knowing who was murdered and were the murderers, but not the how or why. While I liked how the story is told in reverse, I think I would have preferred not knowing who had murdered Bunny and later it be revealed that it was Richard and his friends. It would’ve added a little bit of shock value to the story, because the why is just about the stupidest reasoning ever and it could have really used some actual tension.
Oh, the characters…. I hated them all. Granted, I’m well aware that’s exactly what you’re supposed to feel towards Richard, Bunny, Henry, Francis, Charlie, and Camilla. However, I didn’t hate them because they’re pretentious little assholes and they murdered their friend. No, no, I hated them because they are STUPID pretentious little assholes that murdered their friend. Every decision they make throughout this book is about the most awful choice any person could make. It’s like if we were playing a game of Would You Rather, and the question was, “Would you rather jump off of a building without any safety net or eat an ice cream cone?” and you chose to jump off the building. Now instead of just doing the logical thing, you are purposely choosing to jump off a building because you think it means something special about you to be subversive, that by choosing the illogical, you are somehow part of a higher species than the rest of us. Ummm, no that’s not what that means at all. Nope, you, sir, are just a fucking idiot. That’s Richard and his friends – they are just a group of fucking idiots, who are of the incorrect opinion that they are the most brilliant people upon this Earth.
Now the prose was wonderful. This is the only novel of Tartt’s that I’ve ever read, but I can definitely see why she has become such a celebrated author. The words flow beautifully and every scene is so intricately described without cluttering the storyline. The writing definitely is a nod towards the literary fiction set.
However, even with the insanely idiotic characters and flowery prose, the storyline pulls you in. It’s a large book that is so fast-paced, you don’t even realize that you’ve read 100 pages in one sitting. I was afraid that this book would drag in stretches or even the entire time, but it never did. I was constantly excited to see where the story would go to next, and had so much trouble putting it down. I even chose to read it at my desk during my lunch hour, rather than go home and relax for a bit. It was almost like not being able to look away from a car wreck, even though I knew it was going to turn out awful and I disagreed with every choice the characters made.
And that’s how I know that this book was really, really good.
Final Verdict: 4/5 Stars
Have you read The Secret History? What are your thoughts on it? Did you like the characters? Did you agree with their actions?