Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Secret History

Title: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Gist: “The Secret History” is the story of six friends  (Richard, Camilla, Charles, Edmund, Francis and Henry) who attend a very posh university in rural New England. They have it all: beauty, wealth, sophistication, intelligence, exclusivity, mystery, and are connected by an unparalleled devotion to studying Ancient Greek.
Driven by the boredom of not having a care in the world, they begin to engage in a wide array of immoral activities that test their apparent limitlessness. Their demented devotion to extreme experiences eventually tear them apart and leads to their individual demises. 
Told though the first person narration of this groups latest inductee, Richard (who unlike the other five comes from a middle-class family and is most sensitive to the strange behaviors of the group), this is a tragic but extremely sophisticated coming-of-age mystery that starts with the death of one of group member and and ends with the death of another. The suspense surrounding the reason behind each death is worth the 576 page effort because it unveils the ugliness behind the impeccably beautiful introductory facade Camilla, Charles, Edmund, Francis and Henry put up when they first meet Richard. The five of them easily comprise the most attractive and captivating set of supporting characters I’ve encountered in all fiction I’ve read this year. Like some mysterious, beautiful yet dangerous creatures, they live their outlandish lives beautifully and meet their tragic ends just as beautifully.
Richard is the narrator, but in many ways he is no more involved in the story than the reader. Like us he is taken for a strange ride as a spectator, incapable of changing the course of events set in motion by the other five. It’s only his sense of undying devotion and curiosity about what is to unfold that keeps him and us astride for the whole ride. We are Richard and Richard is us from start to finish. 
"It's a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely?...To be absolutely free!...To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are powerful mysteries...If we are strong enough in our souls we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn." 
  • Great supporting characters-Camilla, Charles, Edmund, Francis and Henry are like an unhealthy addiction. You hate them, but can’t tear your gaze away either. 
  • The gothically romantic and sometimes chilling mood Tartt is able to infuse into her writing (if you’re into that stuff, of course).
  • There is a feeling of pretentiousness about this book and its supposed complexity, which can be off-putting from time to time.
Target Audience: lit majors
More Like It: Brideshead Revisited 
Extra: Check out Fravorwire’s casting of “The Secret History” the the movie. 

Rating: A-

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