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The Secret History | Book Review

The first book I read in 2015 is A Secret History by Donna Tartt, which is something of a cult favourite. I went in to it with high expectations because everyone loves it but also because the premise sounded like something I could love.

This book is about six pretentious, brash but likable college students who have formed some ting of a clique because they all study Greek under this talented and enchanting professor, Julian. The narrator of the book is Richard Papen, one of the students, but it’s hard to tell who the protagonist is, really.

This book is a psychological thriller and it’s disclosed to us in the prologue itself that these students did a terrible thing, and the book tries to explain why they did it.

I was really, really enjoying the book until I reached around the halfway point which is when the “incident” happens and then it sort of became too slow and too fast at the same time. It felt too slow because it was long drawn out and dull, and it was too fast because the extent of psychological decline that all the students go through is not adequately explained or justified by what they went through. A majority of the book was unbelievable to me, including the very melodramatic ending. Richard’s relationship with his parents was absurdly unreal as well, as was the relationship of all the others with their parents, but Richard’s struck me as the most ridiculous.

The tone of the epilogue was different from the tone of the rest of the book, and it was reminiscent of Legally Blonde in its absurd summing up of what everyone was doing. May be the false heartiness of the epilogue was intentional because it tried to represent Richard still struggling to come to terms with everything that happened, and of the control that the “incident” still had on all of them. Maybe.

I liked the book. I did. I gave it 3 stars but I found it meh. Okay, that isn’t fair, I loved it until about the middle. I loved the characters, especially Henry and Camilla, but I found the second half of this book entirely underdeveloped. It’s as though the author expects a shared morality that “crime is bad” to take the place of actual narrative in terms of explaining the mental decline of the students in the aftermath of what they did. Did they suddenly get replaced by squeamish, alternate characters who suddenly couldn’t bear themselves? Why did that happen? Nothing is clear. I can still see it happening, of course, but no thanks to the author.

I don’t know if any of this makes sense, but there it is. If someone disagrees with me, or feels like I missed the point, please let me know so that I can view the book from an alternative perspective and may be even start liking it more. 🙂 Please comment and tell me what you thought of the book.



1 thought on “The Secret History | Book Review

  1. […] managed to be predictable and improbable at the same time is beyond me, but it happened. Anyway, here is the full review I wrote of it. I felt really blah that it was the first book I read in the […]

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