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The Secret History – Donna Tartt

What in the world was this book?

My mum and I started this book as our May read for our mother daughter bookclub, and let me tell you, this was SO worth the read. I feel like this is one of those books that everyone can enjoy. 

Let’s talk The Secret History

This book was incredible and while the plot was so heavy and intense, it held my attention the entire way through. 

I came into the book with no expectations as the blurb that I’d read on goodreads was so brief and gave me nothing to go off of. I was so surprised by the prologue that completely shook me to my core. I mean, a murder mystery? I had no idea that this book even had the premise of murder, so to say I was pleasantly surprised would be an understatement. 

The prologue of the book introduces our main character and the climax of the story which is something I’ve never read before. I kind of love how we were put right into the middle of such an intense and important scene only to be pushed back in time to understand how it really happened and the cause of it all. 

“Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for the ones that I did not.”

– Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Throughout the story i fell in love with the characters, only to be reminded of the sinful act that they’d commit later on in the story. I would be gathering all of these little facts in my head and only understood them about fifty percent of the way through the book. I felt like every little piece of information was so important and so gripping that I couldn’t let even a sentence go by. 


In terms of the writing style, I know that this is where readers will have the most trouble. This writing style is so completely and utterly different than what I’m used to that it almost took me by surprise. I knew that this book would be intense and I’d heard of Tartt’s unique style before, but I didn’t expect this at all. 

It was almost like Tartt wanted to give readers literally every single piece of information possible. Like the author wanted readers to think about why every single line is relevant to the story and what it has to do with the entire plot. It had me questioning every line which is something I usually find myself avoiding while reading a fiction novel. 

The Characters

Our main character, Richard Papen, was one of the most unreliable narrators I’ve ever read. It was almost frustrating hearing the story from an outsiders point of view. 

Richard was thrust into the world of classics and almost pushed into this small group in Julian – his classics professors – class. And while this is amazing and I know it felt almost like a found family, it was also really making our main character insecure in himself. You could tell that the entire story he had insecurities about money and the fact that he wasn’t enough compared to the rest of the group. His doubts clouded his judgment and his storytelling. 

His perspective gave us an interesting view on the other characters in the book. He idolized Julian in a way that many students do towards their favorite teacher, but this was to the extreme. The students in his class basically thought of him as a God. 

This added to the fact that these kids were OBSESSED with ancient Greece and were basically the most pretentious and preppy kids I’d ever read about. They have a complete disregard for modern life and the things going on around them. They spend their days lavishing in a country home drinking all kinds of alcohol. 

Camilla was one character that I felt was definitely portrayed in a light that could’ve been so different if the narrator was changed. Richard romanticized every aspect of Camilla. She was seen as beautiful and pretty, despite her “boyish” nature. 

Bunny was a character that honestly confused me. I feel like he was very charismatic but as things unfolded I realized how manipulative he was to the rest of the group and how he always managed to get his way. It was the littlest things about him that just set me off. 

This was also the case with Henry. The entire book it was clear that he was the leader of the group and that they would follow him, but Henry had his own issues to deal with and often let that cloud his judgment. It was almost as if Henry was using the group for his own reasons that he decided to keep hidden. 

“But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?’
Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.”

– Donna Tartt, The Secret History

Francis was a character that I genuinely enjoyed. I feel like he was the most upfront out of the rest of the group. He was honest and tried to keep everyone on the same playing field. It was refreshing compared to the rest of the group. 

While I started the book genuinely liking Charles and his character, I finished the book almost hating him. I understand the amount of pressure he must’ve been under considering the events of the book, but he handled it in the worst way possible. I also get his suspicions, but his way of dealing with it just broke the entire group apart which was completely unnecessary, not to mention the treatment of his sister which is unforgivable. 

The entire group was charismatic, preppy, mysterious and almost cult-like. There were instances where I had to pause and think – is this for real? You’re telling me a group of students at the age of 20, would be serious about this kind of stuff. This cult-like behavior? It was almost scary, almost out of the blue and very unexpected. I mean their interest in classics became so extreme and if one night hadn’t happened then their entire lives would be completely different. That’s the crazy part. One night ruined every single thing. 

My Thoughts

The story was almost refreshing to me. I’m used to the usual contemporary romances or general fiction stories, but this was something completely different. It was so well thought out and beautifully conveyed. I can see why everyone is completely obsessed with this book.

“It is is better to know one book intimately than a hundred superficially.”

– Donna Tartt, The Secret History

I genuinely have no idea how I’ve gone this long without reading this story. I feel like it’s almost mind altering. Like my view on the world has changed and I’m looking at things in a different light. It’s weird and almost eerie in the way that it’s left me wanting more but given me just enough to be satisfied. 

I think that this is one of those stories that will become a classic and readers will enjoy it for years to come. The fact that there is no set time that the book takes place in will give readers the chance for it to be read for decades. It’s a timeless story full of lust and romance and sinful acts. 

Do I recommend it? 

The Secret History by Donna Tartt is probably one of the best books I’ve ever read. I thoroughly enjoyed every second of it. The intriguing and mysterious story had me reading for hours and never wanting the story to end. 

I definitely recommend this book, and, as a hint, it’s a great book club read! 

Rating: 5/5⭐️

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