The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I often wonder why is it hard to write about a book we like so much? It is because there is so many things in there making stomach squeeze or is it because of this feeling in the head, difficult to transfer into words. I think many people struggle to say about things which move them deeply apart of saying just wow!
Anyway one of the book which stays with me forever is The Secret History by Donna Tartt.
I wrote on my Instagram feed that if I could read only ONE book in 2019 I’d be happy to stick with this one. Why? I’ll try to explain here.

First time I read The Secret History by Donna Tartt when I was a fresh student of Literature after quitting Classic. After the whole year of hard work studying Latin and Greek I struggled to find sense with all the labour I put into high school of Latin grammar and to building Greek sentences. I was scared that I was not good enough and started to question what am I going to do after five years of digging into the Ancient World. The true was that my professors played the role there too - their seemed to loss passions and they way of teaching was covered by too many heavy books they’ve read. Either way I am not blaming teachers, it was me who lost heart to stay longer in the Ancient World, which I admired so much during high school.

“…when I attempt to describe in it what I love about Greek, that language innocent of all quirks and cranks, a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiply from action, action marching relentlessly ahead…” (p.235)

So I decided to change my subject and navigate towards Literature. Fresh and full of hope on the first year there I had read The Secret History.
I will spare you how I was feeling in that time (but you can try to guess) and focus on the impression which this book have made on me now, after almost 20 years when I re-read it for the second time.

“It’s funny, but thinking back on it now, I realise that this particular point in time, as I stood there blinking in the deserted hall, was the one point at which I might have chosen to do something very different from what I actually did. But of course I didn’t see this crucial moment then for what it was; I suppose we never do. Instead, I only yawned, and shook myself from the momentary daze that had come upon me, and went on my way down the stairs.” (p.233).

This is the story about bunch of friends gathered together, enchanted by the world of Ancient Greek. Together with Richard - the main character - they study in snowy Vermont college. There is five of them: Bunny, Henry, Francis and twins Charles and Camilla but in the first sentence of the prologue we find out that Bunny is dead and that they murdered him. So in the first part of the story we’re learning what had happened before Bunny’s death and the second what follows after death. But if we know about death at the very beginning so the plot can’t be dramatic and captivating or it can?

Richard, who arrived to college, is denied entry to an Ancient Greek course because the professor that teaches it - Julian Morrow, handpicking his students himself. The group is elite and Julian’s teaching method unconventional. But with a turn of good luck Richard is accepted to this exclusive group and soon becomes obsessed with his new friends.

“It was why I (Richard) admired Julian, and Henry in particular. Their reason, their very eyes and ears were fixed irrevocably in the confines of those stern and ancient rhythms - the world, in fact, was not their home, at least not the world as I knew it…”

They are about 20 years old, come from rich families or act like that and they are spoiled, so Richard decides to hide his poor background and try his best to be accepted in the group. They have cars, country home, trust founds which are more than Richard could imagine and they don’t care about modern world or about their future whatsoever. They smoke, drink, use drugs, talk until morning, but most of all, they are haunted by the Greek religious ceremony, which they decided to proceed, after the professor encouragement. They don’t involve Richard to that which explains how close friends they were and what role Richard plays after that. Because this is the story about friendship, about the need to be accepted by people we admire. It is the book about feeling of being pushed away and desperate loneliness which have strong impact of one’s life.

“What we did was terrible, but still I don’t think any of us were bad, exactly; chalk it up to weakness on my part, hubris on Henry’s, too much Greek prose composition – whatever you like.”

Since we know that Bunny is dead what can surprise us in this story? My answer is: everything which leads to it and the way they act afterwards. The story is so intense and have many more secrets to discover that I have a strong need to sit under the blanket and sunk into their impulsive and chaotic student’s life one more time. Especially that winter has arrived for good in a place I live and it has been heavy snowing for the last 3 days.

The Secret History
Donna Tartt
Date published: 1992
Publisher: Paperback, First Vintage Contemporary Edition , 559 pages
Language: English
Genre: Fiction, Literary Fiction
ISBN 0-14-016777-3
Reviewer: Monika Barrera
Review rating: 5/5