Give me books, fruit, french wine and fine weather and a little music out of doors. --John Keats

Thursday, March 15, 2012

"The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

The Secret History is blessed with the absolute best combination: brilliant writing and a riveting story. Why can't all books be like this? Well, really, I don't need allthebooksintheworld to be this good: just all the books I read. So I guess the real question is, why can't all the books I choose to read be this great? I suppose the answer lies buried somewhere beneath my penchant for giving obscure books a chance as long as they're cheap.

But never mind--this book certainly didn't fall in the category of cheap, obscure books. I can't for the life of me remember when or where I bought it, but I'm pretty sure I actually paid full price for it, based on previous assurances that I would love it. Not only is it on this list, but my favorite person claims it as a favorite book.

And love it I did. I was enthralled by the unfolding story. It wasn't truly the narrator's story; it was merely a record of the events he observed. Californian Richard Papen found himself accepted--though perhaps only marginally--by an elite and isolated group of students studying Classics at Hampden College in Vermont. Each of his new classmates fascinated him in a strange way--some of the five to a greater extent than the others--but there was a certain synergy at work, as the enigmatic dynamics of the group were even more entrancing to him than the individuals themselves. Richard admired this group to the point of obsession, falling into step with his new peers, willing to go wherever they led--even when the ultimate consequence was murder. (I promise that's not a spoiler! The eventual death is revealed in the prologue.)

The first half of the book details the events leading up to the murder. You'd think all the suspense and excitement would be in this half, but I was even more intrigued by Part Two: watching everyone fall apart, seeing the delicate balance between each of the co-conspirators that might be destroyed at any minute, knowing they were ready to turn on each other at the slightest provocation, and (of course) wondering if they would get caught.

I've seen this book described as a modern classic (however oxymoronic that phrase may be), and I agree with that label. I believe this book will stand the test of time. In fact, that thought leads to my one complaint about the book: I found it ageless almost to the point of annoyance. There were a few clues by which to date it, but the way the main characters spoke--and even the way they dressed--seemed incongruously old-fashioned. But I can live with that. The book was compelling enough that I can forgive a minor irritation.

7 comments:

curlygeek04 said...

It's hard to explain what is so great about this book, but I must have read it a dozen times when it came out. The characters are just unforgettable. It's one of those books where you barely remember the main character but you can see every secondary character from head to toe. I always worried that they'd make a movie of it.

It's one of my favorites! I hated Tartt's second book because it wasn't anything like this one.

Amanda said...

A MUST READ with no comments, for shame!! I'll add it to my TBR list. Always room for more. Nice to see you doing some new blogging!! :).

Kerry Kenney said...

I adore this book. It's on my list of amazing fiction with White Oleander and The Red Tent.

Anonymous said...

Karry, you have absolutely same taste for books as me. Those are all wonderfull books that I will always love.

Kathy said...

Mandy--definitely let me know when you get around to reading this one. I'd love to hear what you thought of it.

Kerry--I have read The Red Tent and enjoyed that, though I must admit I rank The Secret History quite a bit higher. I haven't read White Oleander (yet!) but I've seen the movie and was impressed by it, *and* I already own a copy of the book--I just need to sit down with it!

Anonymous--I'd be interested in hearing what other books you and Kerry have on your favorites list!




Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I just finished this incredible book and loved it. LOVED. I linked your review in my post, glad to see that we continue to have similar tastes!

Amanda said...

I did read this a while back and never got around to commenting on it. It wasn't one of my favorites. I thought she spent way too much time describing the main character's (forgive me, I forget his name) sleeping and eating habits and not nearly enough time explaining the other significantly more interesting characters. That said, it was a very original story and worth reading. I even passed it on to my mother and she enjoyed it very much. But when I finished I felt a little gipped about some of the secrets that never really came to light.