The Secret History

Donna Tartt

This reminded me a lot of Daniel Handler’s The Basic Eight in a few ways — the subject matter and a similar humorous tone mostly. The Secret History is far more long-winded, though perhaps that’s convincing in light of the narrative wanting to every detail of an involved story. Throughout the third quarter of the book, I wondered why the story was still going on, and though I did understand by the end, the arc of the story still felt uneven.

There’s some super romanticism and nostalgia going on in this tale of a small group of students focusing their attention on the classics at a picturesque college in Vermont. The teacher is a wise old man who limits his students to small numbers and insists they study pretty much with him only. Our narrator Richard is a Southern California transplant and outsider to the rest of the group, who are mostly upper class and have known each other for a year already. The class dynamics between them could be more compelling — Richard’s alternations between something like awe and jealousy of their positions gets old after a while. Also the depth of the story doesn’t come across as well as it might have.

I certainly enjoyed reading this — I became entirely engrossed at one point for over 100 pages. But something in the humor got a little annoying, as certain parts of the story got bogged down delving into comedic moments that only served to build on the repetitive humor without pushing the story along. The suspense is well-crafted at least. We know from the very beginning that one of the group is murdered by the rest but the details are slipped out tantalizingly slow. I love this ending to the introduction:

I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.

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