Review: The Secret History

Editorial Review -

Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, selfassured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds them to one another...a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life...and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning.... Read full review

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LibraryThing Review

User Review  - PhilipJHunt - LibraryThing

I found this book lurking unread among my boxed-up library during a recent move across State. I read page 1 rather than shelving it and was hooked. Erudite, literary and intriguing. But it’s a big ... Read full review

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SPOILER I really loved this book up until possibly the last fifty pages. I loved the murder, felt the characters were well written and interesting and the plot was gripping and kept me reading. What annoyed me was the ending, Henry killing himself was potentially the most frustratingly stupid thing imaginable. I realise this was meant to be a dark, upsetting ending but i just couldn't believe the sheer stupidity of this action. He killed himself to protect the drunken, murderous, incestuous and abusive Charles who then went off to break up a marriage and go live with an older woman( the details are a bit foggy after i stopped caring.) Henry sacrificed his future with a woman he loved and ended a life full of possibility to prove a point to Julian or something of that effect, i truly had no understanding of his motivations because realistically there was no motivation. What's worse is that he abandoned Camilla, someone he loved, showing ultimately the weakness and stupidity of the character. The final straw was when Camilla refused to marry Richard, AGAIN i understand this was a dark ending but AGAIN the stupidity of this amazed me, throughout the book there was a constant build-up between Camilla and Richard and in the final dying throes of the book the Camilla-Henry-Charles triangle emerges completely out of the blue with neither Camilla or Henry ever expressing any notion of attraction to each other at any other point in the book! 

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My favorite all-time novel. Simply wonderful. The characters are drawn with a needle-sharp pen, and the prose is effortless to read.

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Thank you Donna Tarrt for teaching me how to complete a book I found absolutely dreadful. So to the positives,the first 300 pages or so are perfectly compelling and inticing.The characters, although not at all well rounded or in any sense real are at least clearly identifiable.This allows the reader to develop the moldest of feelings for them.That said here comes a huge contradiction, I confess I am a little confused as to whether Donna Tartt is a writer of emense talent or terrible ineptitude to have created the protagonist Richard Papen.Who in summary is a weak willed, listless, sexless husk of a young man so easily manipulated that you want to speak on his behalf at every opportunity.He reminded me very much of Nick Carraway of the great gatesby, only it has always been my conceit that Carraway was masterfully designed by Fitzgerald to cast the necessary sense of mundanity and normality to provide the perfect contrast to the gleaming emptiness of Jay Gatesby and Daisy.I don't know that this was Donna Tarrts intention with Richard Papen? I get the feeling we are supposed to like him? Sympathise with him.In any case I wished it had been him that was pushed over the ravine rather than Bunny! From midway through the book I'd totally lost interest as the drama was done with and all that remains is 300 pages of protracted untidy endings and loose and frankly boring subplots relating to the peripheral characters.I honestly dont know what I am supposed to have learned from this book, or enjoyed. The descriptive language and metaphor that the book is peppered with is so ugly and hackneyed. How could anyone read this and come away feeling better for the experince? I did feel a sense of pride but only for passing the ultimate test of enduaramce by completing it. 

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I am not only a reader—I am also a book hoarder. I buy lots of books, and eventually I get around to reading them. Then, when I finish reading a book, I usually keep it, on the off chance that I might want to reread it someday. I have no such desire to keep my copy of “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt. This novel is a colossal disappointment. When this book was published nearly 20 years ago, I can recall the near-universal acclaim it received. Reviewers couldn’t laud Tartt’s debut novel enough. Copies of the book lined store shelves everywhere. I bought the book intending to read it someday, and a few months ago, I finally grabbed it off my shelf and dove in. Between the time I began reading this book and today, when I finally finished it, I’ve read about 6 or 7 other books (and this is rare, since I don’t like to begin reading a book if I’m already reading another one). But slogging through this self-indulgent narrative was literary torture. The story unfolds with a narrative gimmick—the narrator, a student named Richard attending a small, exclusive upper-class college in the Northeast, reveals that he and a group of his friends have killed one of their own. The first part of this unnecessarily lengthy novel (524 pages!) chronicles the inane bohemian lives of this spoiled group of rich kids (Richard, the working-class outsider, is presumably our everyman guide through this mysterious world of privileged ennui). By the time they kill Bunny (yes, that’s his name), I no longer cared about Charles and Camilla, the probably incestuous twins, or Francis, the fey gay guy, or Henry, the Machiavellian brains of the operation. These characters have no redeeming qualities, and they care about nothing, least of all each other. I don’t necessarily need to have a novel populated by characters that I like, but I at least want to care about them in some way—the characters in this novel evoke no sense of “simpatico.” If they were real people, I would studiously avoid them at all costs. Even the description of the murder is inert—there is no action, no tension, no suspense. And the rest of the novel meanders through a rather boring campus-wide search for the body, Bunny’s ensuing funeral, and the dissolutions of the lives of characters about whom I did not care in the least. I cannot remember the last time I was so grateful to have finished a book.  

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Wonderful book. Read it twice and listened to it once narrated by the author.

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