The Secret History By Donna Tartt

June 28, 2019

Sometime in early 2017, I first saw The Little Friend by Donna Tartt at Barnes and Noble. The eye-catching cover that puts you in mind of Annabelle pulled me in instantly, and I knew it needed to go on my reading list. Flash forward to 2018, and I finally owned it. I plowed through The Little Friend in three days and thoroughly enjoyed it and its Bildungsroman style.

A large ritual I have when I find a random book by an author I don’t recognize and enjoy it is look up their other work, because normally if I enjoy one of their books, I will enjoy the rest of them as well. Therefore, after finishing The Little Friend, I looked up Donna Tartt and her other works, and was surprised to find that The Little Friend was not the book that got all the rage, it was The Secret History, which was published a decade prior to The Little Friend.

In true book crazed style, I bought The Secret History the first chance I got last September after my husband and I’s wedding. I had a few books that I wanted to read first, so I did not get around to my first attempt at The Secret History until November. My first attempt at reading I made it 150 of 537 pages before giving up to the seemingly never-ending boring plot line. I tried again in February and made it only a few pages shorter (though this may be due to Book of the Month). It wasn’t until May that I was finally able to take an entire THREE WEEKS (forever in my comparison to my normal reading time) to give it a chance and finish it the whole way through.

I’m going to be honest, for my personal taste, Donna Tartt redeemed herself with The Little Friend, because The Secret History was a story I could have gone my entire life without reading and would not have felt left out. It is most definitely for a very specific type of reader that I am just not. While clearly I believe that all books with good accolades should be given a shot (as evidenced by the fact that I read The Secret History the whole way through), I will simply provide the reasons why the novel did not blow me away, therefore you can make your own decision.

The Beginning Put Me to Sleep

The beginning of this novel is a snooze fest. I love action, excitement, betrayal, and a fast-moving plot. If there is something supernatural, a murder, an affair, an ethical dilemma, or some other crime that occurs in the first few chapters of a book, I am in love already. The first 200 or more pages of this book follows the day to day lives of six Greek students at Hampden College. This did not need to be as mundane and drawn out as it was.

From the beginning of the novel, you know that one of the students, Bunny, ends up murdered by his friends. The purpose of The Secret History is to show how these friends got from point A to point B. Therefore, it is important that Tartt laid out the fact that they were friends and close for this death to make the impact that it does. However, 200 pages is just a bit much. The readers are stuck doling through pages upon pages of these students studying, getting drunk, eating food, and vacationing at a relative’s house, before we get anywhere near a motive or starting point for this murder. It simply became dull for me.

The Characters Become Cliché

Now the characters themselves are interesting in the fact that they are weird. They are eccentric and odd, which is highlighted immediately in the novel through their own actions and others. So, I suppose if you enjoy zany characters, this book may be of interest. However, the further into the story you get, the more outrageous these characters become for seemingly no reason. Their families are all extremes, the students are extremes, and while it is an attempt to make them seem more interesting and riveting, in my opinion it makes them become flat. They fall into stereotypes: a family who pretends to be wealthy but is just drowning in debt and horrifically insincere, an academic gone mad, a professor who has a dark side, a poor boy who hides his financial shame due to pride.

The Erratic Darkness

An overwhelming number of themes and dark occurrences. Once again, another part of this novel that I believe was meant to be shocking and riveting but instead became a negative. Reading a novel about young students murdering a friend is shocking enough. Yet, Tartt went many paces past just murder in a very erratic and overwhelming fashion. After reading 200+ pages of seemingly nothingness, the potential for murder is revealed, and the plot picks up. You discover the reason for the murder, and it is nothing less than shocking and disturbing. This would have been enough to make an excellent novel about Greek students who clearly do not fit in with their society and have ideals far outside what is ethically acceptable. However, once you at about 300-350 pages deep in the book, Tartt slaps the readers again and again with more and more disturbing topics.

Demonic rituals, incest, alcoholism, drug abuse, murder, lies, suicide, and seemingly most offensive in today’s age, and one character blatantly taking advantage of the homosexual tendencies of another are all topics Tartt decides to dredge up in this novel. It just becomes too much and was a large reason why I repeatedly needed to put down the novel and come up for a breath of fresh air.

Overall, Donna Tartt did not impress me with The Secret History. It seemed erratic and jumpy at times, and slow and cumbersome at others. The novel at times makes you want to pull your hair out or lose your mind at the rashness and lack of ethics or empathy the characters display. By the end of the novel you almost become immune to the cold, selfish actions of our 6 loyal friends…but then again, maybe that’s the whole point.

No matter who you are, I recommend you check out The Little Friend, because it was an excellent novel about a little boy who is found hung from a tree in his parents yard, and how the murder is still unsolved 12 years later.

If you are interested in the insanity of The Secret History, you can find it here on Amazon! Let me know what you think if you read it, or if you have read it before!

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