After about a month, I have finally finished The Secret History by Donna Tartt. Usually, a book like this would not take so long to read, but the slow beginning mixed with the end of the school year made it hard for me to get into the book at first. Warning: there are spoilers ahead (don’t read this one yet Zoe ;)).
The book follows college student Richard Papen. He travels from California to attend Hampden College in Vermont. He joins the notoriously exclusive Greek class, taught by a man named Julian, and attended by only five other students; Henry, twins named Camilla and Charles, Francis (affectionately called “François” by some of the classmates), and Bunny.
Now, it’s no spoiler or surprise that Bunny is murdered—shoved off of a cliff in the middle of a snowstorm—by his classmates. That is announced on the first page of the book. It’s the events leading up to that murder, and the events after, that really make up the story. Yet, the reader is left feeling odd and unsatisfied after reading, and that is due to the fact that Richard is an incredibly unreliable narrator.
Richard is arguably a worse narrator than Nick Carroway in The Great Gatsby. He has little to no idea what’s going on for most of the book, and he knows very little about the people he calls his friends. He also is depressed, drunk, or high the entire book, so some of his accounts of the past events are foggy.
This is not to say that Donna Tartt is not a brilliant writer. The storyline and the way the story is written is genius and the ack of information and detail adds to the book.
Actually, the lack of information about each character is exactly what makes the book so endearing. At first, the reader idolizes the characters (like Richard)—they’re cool, smart, mysterious, and well-dressed. As the story goes on, we learn things about the characters. They’re all dark, twisted people—oblivious to the fact that they’re all dark and twisted. Even Richard is a horrible person (specifically seen on page 484), yet he never admits to his faults.
The entire book itself is satirical commentary on wealthy, upper class students. Donna infiltrates these peoples’ groups and shows their true colors. There’s the fact that though they all seem to be extremely wealthy, almost none of them actually have any money. Either they have an allowance from their parents, or they are genuinely just faking it. They also are incredibly sociopathic, depressed, and/or just insanely weird. Like, for example, sleeping with your twin (spoiler alert!).
Overall, I think that this book has become one of my favorites of all time. Sure, it was slow at first, but the detail, the storyline, the characters, and just the entire overall aesthetic is amazing. I recommend this book to everyone, no matter what you usually prefer to read. It’s definitely a modern classic.