The Secret History by Donna Tartt

In 2013, I read The Goldfinch, the most recent novel by Donna Tartt that had won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize. It was dense, felt like it was never going to end, and detailed. It was also equal parts beautiful, haunting, and so in depth that sometimes in conversation about people who deal antiques or live in the suburbs of Las Vegas, I start to reference 'a friend' and remember that the reference I am about to make is from a fictional character. It has haunted me and stuck with me for several months and it is one of the only books I have read that have a feeling of longing for- I miss it in an odd way. Although that was the third published book by Donna Tartt (she writes one everyone ten years, or at least that is her pace so far) it was the first I had read by her. 

In May I started The Secret History and while I sped through it much faster than The Goldfinch, it has taken me a while to write about because I dramatically haven't known what to say, I am still digesting it today. 

This book follows one character, Richard, and his group of four friends he has made at his University in New England. Richard is now telling the story of how one of the friends, Bunny, had died while they were in school- what their friend group was like, what they studied (isolated classical Greek), the off hand connections with others that are involved in their lives, and so on.  I am still a bit speechless about how brilliant and quick the whole thing happened, but reading it felt as though I was staying up late with a stranger I had just met, we were the only ones left sitting in a kitchen or a bar, and this stranger was telling me a huge turning point of their life (in youth) until the sun came up. 

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”  ― Donna TarttThe Secret History

The edition of print that I had of this book had a Q&A with Tartt in the back and she stated that the original manuscript was intended to be 1,000+ pages, but it being her first published book, the publishers condensed it to 550 with smaller type and thinner pages. Because it carried so much detail and was such an interesting story line, it really felt like it could have been three different books to me.  It didn't have a normal story line of rise and fall, it instead weaved in and out of problems and resolutions and descriptions. 

the secret history review

The characters were haunting and mesmerizing, some of the most distinct characters I have read about and at the same time had no redeeming qualities and unlike anyone I have ever known. Tartt is so fantastic and creates these worlds and characters that are dripping in content melancholy that as soon as I finally sat the book down in shock and frustration, I wanted it to continue on for years and years. It was very different than The Goldfinch, a bit darker but more realistic and equally fantastic. There are very few books that I long to reread (because there are thousands more to be devoured) but I feel like until I revisit this in 10 or 20 years, I won't fully catch everything that was there. 

“It is easy to see things in retrospect. But I was ignorant then of everything but my own happiness, and I don’t know what else to say except that life itself seemed very magical in those days: a web of symbol, coincidence, premonition, omen. Everything, somehow, fit together; some sly and benevolent Providence was revealing itself by degrees and I felt myself trembling on the brink of a fabulous discovery, as though any morning it was all going to come together–my future, my past, the whole of my life–and I was going to sit up in bed like a thunderbolt and say oh! oh! oh!”  ― Donna TarttThe Secret History


I loved this book. LOVED it. But I also think I read it at the right time in my life. If you are looking for something really dense to get completely lost in, want to take time with characters who are intelligent and just generally cruel, love a good slow suspense, and/or loved The Goldfinch- then you will love this and it will not disappoint. It sat on my shelf for about two years and I don't think I was ready for it until now. THANNNNK you book karma!