Book Review: Donna Hart, A Secret History

With the Christmas holidays nearly upon us, it’s the ideal time to take a break from all the hundreds of pages of seminar reading and actually read something for fun. Surrounded by your friends and family, having a great time and getting in the Christmassy spirit, there’s no better time to read Donna Tartt’s The […]

Caitlin Disken
6th March 2019

With the Christmas holidays nearly upon us, it’s the ideal time to take a break from all the hundreds of pages of seminar reading and actually read something for fun.

Surrounded by your friends and family, having a great time and getting in the Christmassy spirit, there’s no better time to read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. It’s a book that starts: ‘the snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.’ That’s right – the novel centres around the death of college student Bunny Corcoran. How cheery. How lovely. What a nice way to spend the long December days.

Everything about the book is subtly beautiful yet subtly devastating

The book really is like no other. The narrative focuses around a group of elusive and mysterious Classics students, all attending an elite Liberal arts college in Vermont. Reading it as a fourteen year old at a comprehensive in Yorkshire, it made me want to be at an American college. Even now, re-reading it at university, you’re caught up in a novel where you simultaneously love, hate and want to be the characters. Richard, the narrator, is the perfect Nick Carraway-style character, somebody who hovers on the periphery of the group and who guides the reader through the Bacchanal madness that ensues. Tartt uses him to masterfully weave the narrative with clever classical references that don’t leave the reader stumped.

Everything about the book is subtly beautiful yet subtly devastating. It’s not a book that sacrifices the story for eloquent writing, or focuses too much on creating a thrilling plot. It wonderfully manages to mix both, documenting how young lives are torn apart by reckless self-destructiveness. At over 500 pages long, it is by no means an easy read, and it’s not something you can skim through in an hour. Yet it’s worth the challenge. Even as someone who reads books pretty fast, it still took me a good couple of weeks to get through it. But Tartt makes it work. You leave the book, 500 pages after reading the first sentence, and want to read it all over again. There’s also such a sense of achievement when you finish it. The fact that it has been classified as a ‘modern classic’ is no understatement. I’m always trying to get people to read books I love, yet The Secret History is the one that I shove in people’s faces the most. Trust me on this.

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