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.