Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I felt like I had really accomplished something when I finally turned the last page.
Donna Tartt takes her readers on a long and involved drive through the meanderings and minds of 20 and 21 year old precocious college students on a sort-of dark, twisted coming-of-age tale.

The tale is told from the perspective of transfer student Richard, who has come to the college of his dreams in northeast vermont, in order to escape his dreary LA life back home.  Richard wishes to enroll in the school's Greek course, since he has some background and is seeking footing, but is initially halted in his efforts by the illustrious Julian Morrow, professor of the greek students.  Richard is, of course, even more intrigued by the "elite" five students of Julian's class and redoubles his efforts, to great success.

Although it takes some time for Richard to really fit into the group... as much as he ever will, anyway, they and he are quickly taken with each other, studying the classics under the largely exclusive tutelage of Julian.  Henry is the leader of the group in many ways, and Richard and the other 4, "the twins," Francis, and Bunny (Edmund), follow Henry's whims and instructions like good little students.

Tartt starts the whole book off with the climax... or, at least, what is to be the primary climax.  The death of Bunny.  But we don't know how it happens, why it happens, or what happens as a result.  When we finally reach that point in the story that subsequently unfolds, the story itself is far from over.  There is the aftermath, the psychological and physiological impacts to address, and really, much more.

I disagree with reviewers who have called the book pretentious or other similar phrases... as someone who has attended a similarly small and odd liberal arts college, I thought Tartt had described the varying personalities so very well.  Some of the students she described were certainly pretentious (at least, on first glance), but that was what was so impressive about her writing.  If you look closely, there are varying degrees and a skill with subtlety in describing these grating personalities.. and there are others, ranging from the ditzy valley girl and frat guy to the police officers, to other university personalities, to local small town vermonters, to the narrator himself -- a sort of "everyman."  Even more impressive was how the main characters grew and developed over the book -- Tartt did not just stick to one dynamic character, but several changed and reacted and grew and matured and....

Frankly, it was an impressive book.  And, to boot, an interesting read!
The book is tense and deep, densely exploring Richard's experiences at Hampden.
This review is somewhat wandering, I think mostly because there is just SO MUCH in the book, that it's difficult to write a cohesive review that does it any justice... instead, I offer my thoughts.

I highly recommend the book to people who like an intellectual mystery, a psychological thriller, a collegiate coming-of-age'ish (without the annoying aspects of the typical high school coming of age books).
of 5 stars

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