I am so behind in my reviews. I read this over Labor Day weekend! The Secret History by Donna Tartt languished in my TBR stack from the library for a few weeks before I finally got to it. I can’t believe I almost took it back unread! It’s beautiful. The writing is lush and eloquent but never overdone and the story grips you from the beginning and never lets go. It’s rare for a literary work to be such a page turner, but I couldn’t set this one down once I picked it up.
From the beginning, you know something bad happens, but you don’t know why. It starts with Bunny’s death, then jumps back in time where we learn Bunny is friends with his would be murderers. The book is about determining why Bunny dies and gets its drama and tension from that psychological element rather than from action. Each sentence is carefully constructed, pulling you into the story and forgetting the world around you, until when you finally do come up for air you have to shake off the feelings from the book before moving on. The books is straight-up creepy, made extra disturbing because you start to understand why Bunny had to die and almost feel like you would have done the same thing. It does that good a job rationalizing everything and getting you inside the story.
The story takes place at an east coast college, with a small group of highly intelligent students gathered around an eccentric professor named Julian. He has them study solely with him, studying Greek and isolating them from reality in many ways. Despite the creepiness, it made me long to be back in an academic environment, with a Julian pushing me to improve. Minus the whole murder aspect.
Random quote that made me laugh because I don’t want kids: “The fulfillment of the reproductive cycle was, in nature, a harbinger of swift decline and death.”
Book Riot recently did a story on who they would cast in the move, as did Flavorwire. I have to go with Flavorwire’s pick of Joseph Gordon-Levitt over the guy who plays Peeta for Richard’s role. I think this would make an excellent movie, so hopefully someone picks up on that and the book’s recent resurgence in popularity. The novel was originally published in 1992, but I’ve seen it all over the place lately. When I was poking around trying to see why, I stumbled across an interesting fact from Wikipedia. Apparently this novel and Bret Easton Ellis’s novel The Rules of Attraction contain references to each other. I knew from the notes in the copy of The Secret History I read that the two went to college together and are friends, but Tartt didn’t mention that part. I thought that was fun and will have to give The Rules of Attraction a try now. The other random fact from my notes is that the novel was over 1,000 manuscript pages, but they got it down to 559 printed pages! The publishers didn’t think such a long debut novel would sell, especially since it’s not fantasy or science fiction, which gets away with longer page counts. So, it’s a dense book but still manages to be a quick, intense read.