The Secret History by Donna Tartt (1992)


L: 9.5/10

M: 10/10


Analysis from a rusty razor blade, at the bottom of the recycling bin:

We here at Aspirant Lecteur highly praise Donna Tartt and view here as the unofficial gatekeeper to the VIP section of this shitty book club. With only one previous book being chosen, The Goldfinch, it was reviewed so highly and placed in such high regard, that a special section of the site was created, The Upper Echelon. I was aware of her previous works, but for one reason or another never picked them up for scrutinization. Perhaps, in fear of tarnishing the godlike bronze sheen that her name resonated on my bookshelf. Since selecting and reading The Goldfinch, I have given my copy away and purchased new, three times additional times. Could her previous work hold up to the flame in which we hold so brightly and burn eternal for Ms. Donna Tartt? Well, like, yeah.. of course.

The book cracks open moments after a murder, and jumps backward, making its way towards the cold open. Donna is narrating once again in a male voice through the protagonist Richard. I never really gave a second thought to it being odd that a female writer would choose a male voice (twice), but after reading and watching some interviews with the author, the question was always brought up. Maybe it’s the way she effortlessly narrates her stories, nothing seems out of place or odd in the slightest bit. Her writing gives me a soothing effect, and I would often pick periods in which I could nap right after reading, so my dreams would continue on in the pages of this story.

The Secret History takes place in the same fictitious college that Bret Easton Ellis constructed Rules of Attraction around, which is fucking cool. A little bit of light digging shows that they were acquaintances at Bennington College in Vermont, and parts of this book were written in step with Less Than Zero. Hampden and the majority of Richards time spent there was everything that college wasn’t for me. I had opened that section of my life as an English major. Still, I was scared into a more profitable one, and ultimately running away with whatever degree my credits meekly summarized into. In my notes, I wrote down a line that Richard thinks to himself, “And I was happy in those first days as really I’d never been before, roaming like a sleepwalker, stunned and drunk with beauty.” That pretty much sums up the feeling I never really got to feel, but always felt robbed of, so for now, I’ll settle for this.

Richard eyes the Greek department in is initial days at Hampden and, with little effort, finds his way in and befriends the small group of students, and this group makes up the majority of The Secret History. At first, he wants his life to move along the same orbit as this group, but the sheen starts to fade, and his ideal collegiate career crumbles right off the side of a damn cliff. The first couple of semesters trot along with lethargic inertia, summers spent in the overshadowing wealth that the group provided. There is always this sense of growing doom in the corners of the background, and I was glad to be as blind as Richard, enjoying the good times while they were there to be had.

A bizarre night in the woods, fueled by homemade drugs and ritual in the aim of a state of madness, ends with a random murder, and the resulting coverup fuels the last half of the story. Richard drowns and swells in guilt and shame and never really recovers. The falling weight of the coverup grows and grows until the group shatters apart, and the pieces never make their way back.

The Secret History isn’t so much a mystery as an explanation of how things can go so perfectly wrong. Donna Tartt really can carve a scene and visually fill it with characters you get to know and don’t want to let go of. I look forward to reading her first novel and completing the Donna triple, as for now, she is two for two.

Analysis from a souvenir shot glass that never holds an ounce of liquor:

Oh, this book. Oh, this author. Oh, my heart. She manages to write things that just stick with me. I have had to process this book for a week before I could even begin to sit down and write it out. No wonder it took her so damn long to write it! This book felt like going home to me. The setting being so reminiscent of Rules of Attraction and the general vibe is the same at first, which made me feel safe and helped me dive right away.

I love each and every character she dreamed up and equally hate them as well. Donna has a way of giving you all the good, bad, and ugly while still leaving some mystery behind. I felt the anxiety of the characters. I felt the bond. I was annoyed with Henry for taking charge so much and a little uneasy about the twins and their sexual chemistry. Each character meant something profound to me, and as I do with all books, I find people in my life that seem to match that character, and it changes my view of them for a while until the book ends, and I come out of my haze.

Much like The Goldfinch, I don’t know that this book will ever truly leave me. I don’t even know how to review it other than to say read it. Go get the book. Read it. Then wait a year and read it again. I feel like it is my story even though I have never lived a second of a life like this. Her writing surpasses any author I’ve ever come across. Donna Tartt’s writing sticks to your bones. It sustains you. I hung to every word, and with the last word felt both satisfied and empty. She is my go-to woman author. Well done.


donna tartt 2.jpg
Donna Tartt

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