I began writing this post in the last week of December, and beware this has SPOILERS.
Hi friends! I hope every had a merry christmas or a happy hannukah or just an overall great holiday week! I just wanted to thank everyone who has been commenting and liking my blog posts even though I have not been super active. I really really freaking appreciate it.
Okay, so to bring some context to this post I just want to briefly talk about why I decided to read The Secret History now. The Secret History has been a book that has been on my TBR for what seems like forever. I should say my theoretical TBR, I didn’t own a physical copy till last year (2018), I think. But before I finally decided to purchased the book for myself, I would always pick it up when I was at the bookshop and contemplate whether I should buy it – because in my mind, it would be a commitment. And yes, every book is a commitment – but this book…SHE THICC.
But I eventually said fuck it, book sizes DON’T INTIMIDATE ME, I got this. Aaaaand then it stayed on my shelf for however long it was chilling there. But then last week, I decided to take the plunge and actually read The Secret History. Not only have I been wanting to read it for so long, I had also just finished a binge-reading MONTH (i legit read 20 books in the month of December – so 20 books in 27 days as it is the 27th as I’m writing this). As a result, I kind of wanted to read a book that would kind of force me to take my time in reading it. And The Secret History was that bitch for me. Because I find the writing itself to be intense, in that, I have to pay attention to it specifically – because I freaking love the lyrical and powerful quality of Donna Tartt’s writing!
This review is going to be formatted slightly different from my typical review posts. I thought, since The Secret History is divided into two parts, I’ll put my review in two parts also. So the first half of this review will only be my thoughts about Part One and the second half of this review will be about Part Two. As a result, I will be writing this post at varying times. Now, as I am sitting here about to write about Part 1, it is the 27th of December as I have only just finished Part One of The Secret History.
Does that make sense, kind of?
I hope so.
Anyway, let’s get this shit started!
thoughts on book one
God, I hope this book keeps the momentum because I freaking LOVE this book right now. I just don’t know how to articulate my emotions! Right off the bat, I can undoubtably with assertion state that I am in love with Donna Tartt’s writing. She writes so beautifully – it reminds me of The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde, with some Circe by Madeline Miller – in that, the writing possesses a certain lyrical quality to it. Let me give you some of my favourite quotes that I’ve tabbed:
‘There is to me about this place a smell of rot, the smell of rot that ripe fruit makes. Nowhere, ever, have the hideous mechanics of birth and copulation an death – those monstrous upheavals of life that the Greeks call miasma, defilement – been so brutal or been painted up to look so pretty; have so many people put so much faith in lies and mutability and death death death.’P. 9
And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our mortal selves?P. 44
‘Trees are schizophrenic now and beginning to lose control, enraged with the shock of their fiery new colours…We want to be devoured by it, to hide ourselves in that fire which refines us.’P. 45
Just to write a few!
But there are so many lines that I read and I feel like my mind is being blown at an almost constant rate whilst I read this.
So, if you don’t know what The Secret History is about, it is an American college campus novel, or a dark academic novel, about a group of students who, well, are morally ambiguous. Richard Papen, the main character who narrates the story, joins an elite New England college to study Ancient Greek, both the language and its histories. The class that he practically begs to get into has only five other students, Henry, Francis, Camilla, Charles and the infamous Bunny. Now, from the very first sentence, we know that somehow, Richard, Henry, Camilla, Charles and Francis are responsible for the death of Bunny. We don’t know why from the prologue, but we know that they kill him.
The first part of the book (Book I) essentially is the lead up to Bunny’s murder. And gosh darn, Donna Tartt knows how to bring the suspense, in the way that every scene adds or builds on the overall atmospheric quality of the story. There is an inherent eerie-ness to the story – I would even say a hazy quality to it, as though we are looking through a Pensieve memory a la Harry Potter, and watching through Richard’s reconstruction of his past – the way that he remembers them. And because it’s written in this way, Richard is an unreliable narrator and we only see the other characters through Richard’s perspective, so basically, we don’t really get a chance to delve deep into the other characters’ personalities, nor their thoughts. I would have personally loved a perspective from either Henry (the mastermind) or Camilla (the only woman in the group). Either or both of this perspectives in addition to Richard’s would have been freaking awesome – as these two characters are ones that I am most interested in to know better. They’re just super complex and I low key kind of enjoy reading about Henry?
CAN WE TALK ABOUT BUNNY FOR A SECOND? I really don’t like him. I never did from the beginning of the story – there was a restaurant scene in which he called the waiter a variety of homosexual slurs and I was like BE GONE MOTHERFUCKER. I kind of felt smug throughout reading Book One because I knew Bunny would die somehow – how terrible is that? But his character really striked my nerve. He is a character I love to hate.
But that’s not to say that I love every other character. No. The thing is, every character in this is exceptionally flawed, which hello, they voluntarily scheme to murder one of their friends, essentially means that they are not wholly ‘good’ people. This story is more of an exploration of the morally grey as well as, what I’m going to refer to as, subtle karmic justice. What do I mean by this? Well, up until this point and I think this will be a recurring theme throughout Book Two as well, is that the situations that the group find themselves in are in direct result of their fucking stupid decisions. Because let’s be honest, Richard is stupid. So is Francis and Charles, Camilla and Henry. Though they are intelligent, goddamn do they do stupid shit.
Can I go read Book Two now? Please?
thoughts on book two & concluding thoughts
What. In. The. Actual. Fuck.
What the fuck.
WHAT THE FUCK?
I just finished The Secret History. FIVE OUT OF FIVE MOTHERFUCKING STARS. I loved this book so freaking much. It is now one of my favourite books of all time. There, I said it.
How the hell do I articulate my feelings about this book right now. Okay, so Book Two is where shit hit the fan. LITERALLY.
I won’t go super into detail about what happened but the second half would have had to be 300 pages of LITERARY BEAUTY. It was written so well that I didn’t realise that I was on the edge of my seat until I realised that I was legitimately sitting on the edge of my couch with my eyes glued to each freaking page. The aftermath of Bunny’s death, told in a sort of non-linear linear storyline. That doesn’t make sense, but bear with me. The way that this book is written is through Richard’s perspective, but it’s sort of a reconstructed memory. Richard is going through what happened from the perspective of someone writing it down from the future. As such, everything has this hazy quality to it; like all memories seem to have, so the reader just has to put their trust in the narrator in terms of the occurences that Richard is speaking on. Because of the way in which this book is written, every character that we meet is obviously seen only through Richard’s eyes. In most cases, Richard has no desire to really formulate deep friendships with any of the others; they are friends because they are in the same class – a class that is isolated from the rest of the university in a way that results in the group between excluded very much from the normal ‘college’ life.
I don’t even know if I would consider Henry, Francis, Charles and Camilla Richard’s friends. They are loyal to each other because they had to become loyal as they killed on of their friends to cover for the fact that Henry, Charles, Francis and Camilla killed a farmer whilst being high as a result of a Greek Dionysian ritual.
Well, Henry technically killed the farmer like he technically killed Bunny – but they were all complicit.
Camilla, for instance, was a character I found incredibly intriguing as she was one of the only women in the story that was a recurring one. But we don’t really know much about her. Except for the absolute bombshell that was dropped about her and her twin, Charles which I didn’t see coming and I should have. It’s because we don’t get to know her as Richard doesn’t really get to know her – she’s this woman whom Richard conveys sexual desire for and the woman whom is placed on a pedestal- Richard believes that he loves her but he never really tries to get to know her. Thus, we don’t really know her. But she is so freaking complex and interesting! I wish we could have gotten to know her more.
Richard is literally just a fuckboy. There, I said it. He makes idiotic decisions and there were times were I literally slapped my palm to my forehead coz really son?! But ultimately, his perspective was engaging and entertaining. Something about reading the story from the perspective of one of the only characters who was not privy to every little detail was fucking genius because we as the readers found out information the second Richard found them out. It was incredibly thrilling and added so much suspense.
But Henry is where my mind kind of implodes. Who is he and why is he? He would have to be one character that I freaking wish we were able to see inside his head. I found him so fascinating. Is he a psychopath? Henry approaches life by taking complete control; that which does not fit is cast aside. OR is he actually chaotic and doesn’t control anything but pretends to and when all that falls apart, he falls apart? He is just so fascinating.
The ending, which I won’t talk about because spoiler, was an aspect of the story that I did not see coming and now I understand why people claim that they found it anti-climactic. I wouldn’t say that the ending was completely anti-climactic but it definitely left me with questions and wondering whether that was it. But in a sense, I do believe the ending is entirely what the characters deserve; not completely happy with their lives, riddled with guilt but trying to move on with their mediocre lives. BUT HENRY??? Donna Tartt really made me thought he faked his own death to become a spy and that’s what I’ll pretend happen and not that he committed suicide. Because I just could not process that scene.
I just really fell in love with this book and I am so happy that I read it. As I said before, The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a 5 out of 5 star book and now one of my all time favourite books. It just affected me in so many ways and I think Donna Tartt’s writing is one of my favourites she is just a literary goddess.
Okay, I’m going to end this post here because it’s over 1500 words and I need to stop talking! If you’ve read this far, I appreciate you.
Until next time, happy reading!
Lots of love,