Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is, without a doubt, in my top books of all time. Remaining a ‘cult classic’ for more than two decades, Tartt’s tale of murder and intrigue in a New England university weaves academia, the Classics, young adult drama, and misfits into a gripping and masterful work of art.
The Secret History begins with the revelation of a terrible event that has rocked the protagonists’ world. In the Prologue we are told about the death of a friend, Bunny, or, more specifically, his premeditated murder: ‘the loose rocks, the body at the bottom of the ravine with a clean break in the neck, and the muddy skidmarks of dug-in heels pointing the way down’. Richard Papen’s first person narrative reveals everything – the facts of the climactic event that will haunt his life – in these first few pages. Nothing is left to the imagination. Yet, as the narrative jumps back to the ‘beginning’, in an effort to explain how the actions of this eccentric group of students led to murder, Tartt manages to grip my imagination and create a story steeped in suspense. At over 600 pages long, it is no short read, but I found Tartt’s style so beautiful and effortless that I raced through the pages with the paradoxical feeling of wanting to know what happened and how, but also not wanting the story to end.
Donna Tartt’s debut novel, The Secret History, is a stunningly heady and nostalgic account of university life where reinvention, transformation and enlightenment are all possible. Where, in an idyllic world, anything is possible. I was left feeling in awe of such a powerful and haunting tale. It is easily one of the best novels I have read.
Donna Tartt is an American writer and author of three books to date: The Secret History (1992), The Little Friend (2003) and The Goldfinch (2013). She won the WH Smith Literary Award for her second novel and The Pulitzer Prize for fiction with her latest book (it was also shortlisted for the Women’s Prize for Fiction in 2014).
I took some of this post from the review I wrote of ‘The Secret History’ on my old blog, Yasmine Rose Reads Books, though some of it has been changed and modified slightly.