Review : The Secret History

tumblr_nnryv6weug1uue5w9o1_400Title : The Secret History
Author : Donna Tartt
Published : January 1st 1992 (first edition)

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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

Rating : rating4cookiesI don’t care how pretentious some people think this book is, I loved it !

515

It took way longer than I had planned to read this book, but life got in the way, as it does, and somehow, it’s more than two months later, and I’ve only just finished it now.

Somehow, I think it’s for the better, because TSH seems like the kind of book you shouldn’t read in a few days, but a book you need to savour and take your time with.

This book is so engaging, so attention-grasping that, even if the pace is pretty slow, you don’t really feel it. The thing that surprised me the most is the fact that the main character, Richard Papen, who’s actually more a sort of supporting role in the story that happens around him, manages not to sound too dull or bland.

Did someone say clueless ?

The last time I remember reading a book with a “narrator who was more spectator than actor” was Patroclus, in The Song Of Achilles (by Madeline Miller) and, even though I really loved the story and cried my eyes out at the end, I remember that the pace was really slow, and the narration was very passive and lacked a bit of rhythm. This is not what is happening here.

Richard is kept in the dark about a lot of things that happen with his new friends, and he discovers these things gradually, usually after it’s too late for him to do anything more than stare at his friends, aghast and in shock. But this trick kind of keeps the reader on their feet too because, even if you think you know where the story is going, it always surprises you.

The characters are truly the essence of this story, it lives through them.

Give me complex characters *grabby hands*

(Besides, I had just finished the latest Raven Boys book, so I was more than ready for over-priviledged assholes (I mean that in a very fond way, of course)).

First, I liked how each character, in the middle of the group, can be described at least once throughout the story, as an outsider.

Their rag-tag group of intellectuals, obviously, keep apart from the rest of the school, so that would make all of them outsiders and unite them even more, but even among themselves, they can be quite unique and peculiar :

● Richard is the only one who doesn’t come from a wealthy background, and keeps trying to hide it.

● Camilla is the only girl in a group of guys.

● Francis because of his sexuality.

● Henry because of his aloof exterior and scholar interests.

Charles and Bunny are both more difficult to put aside because of their charm and/or good humour, but the story ends up making outsiders of them as well.

Second, I loved the moral greyness of the characters.

I tend to have a hard time with characters whose moral compass is always a bit on the darker side, but I also know that I’d be bored out of my mind if characters were always good and pure.

What I need is a balance between the two. I want morally-grey characters that I still care about, despite their many failings.

And that’s another success for Donna Tartt. So much ambiguous morality ! You will discover new things about yourself in the process !

All this ambiguousness adds to the idea of “picturesque”, which always comes back in the story.

The idea that “oh, this is quite peculiar. It will make for a good story.” This sort of detachment from reality, as if life is only a few fragments of stories, here and there, put together. Everything for the sake of the anecdote.

The story proves effectively the negative and unhealthy effects of this particular train of thought.

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