Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Hey guys, I have finally read a Donna Tartt’s novel! I had planned to do so for a while and I can tell you that I was not disappointed. The Secret History is Donna Tartt’s first published novel. It apparently took eight years to be written! It was published in 1992 and it is absolutely thrilling. The Secret History is the first novel I read in a little while (I have been reading a lot of non fiction lately) and from the moment I reached the middle of the book, I simply couldn’t put it down. 

The book takes place during a whole academic year. It focuses on a (very) little group of students who follow an Ancient Greek degree at Hampden College, Vermont, and is narrated by one of these students, Richard. Hampden’s Ancient Greek teacher, Julian, only accepts a limited number of students in his course and it is with many difficulties that Richard manages to sign up for this very private course in the beginning of the book. Richard then becomes part of the little Classicist group, which comprises five other students: the extremely smart and socially maladjusted Henry, who speaks an incalculable number of dead languages, the fabulously rich Francis, the incredibly beautiful twins, Charles and Camilla, and the greedy, clumsy and always broke Bunny. As Richard becomes closer to this bunch of eccentric people, he also cuts himself off from the rest of Hampden’s students. The first part of the book focuses on Richard’s life during his first semester at Hampden. The second part of the book, which takes place during the second semester, shows how Richard and his little group of friends deal with the aftermath of an upsetting event that turned the whole College upside down.

I found this book very original despite a relatively simple and straightforward plot. First, I really liked the fact that the book is narrated from the point of view of Richard, who is a very unusual narrator because we never get to really know him or sympathize with him, which totally breaks the identification process that is usually at stake between reader and narrator. I even found this narrator dislikable, and that was a very interesting experience.

In addition to the narrator, most of the characters of this story are actually dislikable too. Richard’s friends are rich, disdainful and self-centered kids who could be described as sociopath, to a certain extent. They deeply worship their Greek teacher and seem to live for the sole love of Greek. They have willingly cut themselves off from the rest of the world, don’t watch the news and don’t know anything about contemporary History. I really enjoyed reading a novel with so special and dislikable characters, that was a very unique experience. Finally, the style in which this book is written is also quite original: it is very literary, very “classic”, very pompous, and mirrors perfectly its main characters… Whether you like dark novels, novels with much suspense, thrillers or character studies, this book is for you, guys! It is an unsettling but great novel that will stay with you for a long time.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Published by Penguin Books, 1993 (for this edition)

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  • Reply Alex 16 January 2017 at 10 h 53 min

    A likeable book where everyone is dislikable has to be interesting 🙂

  • Reply Resh Susan 18 January 2017 at 6 h 00 min

    Glad you really enjoyed the book. I have Tartt’s Goldfinch on the shelf. But everyone seems to enjoy Secret History more

    • Reply ameliereadingit 19 January 2017 at 0 h 09 min

      “The Goldfinch” also seems to be a great novel, in a different vein. I’m planning to read it in the near future. “The Secret History” was my first Tartt’s novel but I’m convinced that all of Tartt’s novels deserve to be read, they all seem to be so carefully crafted!

  • Reply heyimManon 18 January 2017 at 17 h 30 min

    Hey, I read this book last year, it’s called “Le maître des illusions” in french. You can read my review on Ça pétille 😉

    • Reply ameliereadingit 18 January 2017 at 23 h 52 min

      Oh wow, that’s a total change of title! I’ll go read your review, I’m super curious to know what you thought of this book!

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