Books »The Secret History

the secret history donna tarttDonna Tartt's debut novel The Secret History is one of the few novels I have read repeatedly and loved, so it was a shock that I had never recommended it here before. This tense, funny page turner came up in conversation the other night, and I knew I had to write about it this week. Its release was met with the unique kind of vigorous adulation from both literary circles and the general public usually reserved for Chuck Palahniuk.

It's an undeniably entertaining novel, but one you can carry around with street cred. Well, at least the kind of living-in-Brooklyn-with-a-BA-in-fine arts street cred carrying a novel from her friend Bret Easton Ellis, an expensive coffee, and a Jack Spade bag would get you.

The story involves a group of elitist ancient Greek scholars at a liberal Vermont college (based on Tartt and Ellis's alma mater, Bennington) who take their studies too seriously and literally and end up committing murder. No worries, no spoilers here, that violent fact is stated in the first sentence of the book. So the end result is no secret or mystery, it's the fun, nail biting journey the characters take to get there that makes the novel so intriguing.

And speaking of characters, she has put to paper some of the most unforgettable eccentric rich kids ever. Henry Winter, the snide sociopathically cultured young man who wears round antique frames, carries an umbrella at all times and dons?English suits as he “make(s) a wide circle to avoid a group of bongo players on the lawn”. Then there's the odd twin duo of Camilla and Charles Macaulay, mysterious and romantic, but cold, selfish, and manipulative. Then there's Edward “Bunny” Corcoran, a character Tartt describes as “Typical product of a second-rate, American boarding school?The kind of person you just know is going to be this useless alcoholic fixture at the country club by the time he's thirty-five.”

All that unfolds is told to us from the viewpoint of Richard Papen, the newest, least wealthy member of the group who loves, fears, and stands in awe of his classmates, constantly feeling like and outsider brought into?a magical world of picturesque people and as he says of himself, his fatal flaw is “a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs”.

It is a witty, amazing novel, have a great time reading it!

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Posted on February 25, 2008

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