Warning: If you have not read “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt, do not read this review if you don’t want spoilers. If you don’t mind spoilers or already read the book, feel free to read this!
I’m back with another book review, and this time it’s “The Secret History” by Donna Tartt! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“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.”
The writing style is reminiscent of Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby” to me, mainly because of the story being from the point of view of one Richard Papen, someone who happens to be there for the main events but isn’t a hugely participating in these same events throughout the story.
When it came to the relationships between characters, it was very interesting to see how everyone slowly turned on Edmund, aka “Bunny” throughout the book. The incestual relationship between Charlies and Camilla was something I thought might happen, given Richard’s first-sight assumption of them that they were boyfriend-girlfriend, but I was still surprised to find out that “Oh, Richard was a bit more right about that than I thought…” Also, Charles and Francis’ sexual relationship was also surprising to find out later on, too, as well as the kiss Francis had with Richard late in the book (poor Richard was not expecting it at all). I also thought Henry and Julian were in a secret relationship, though it was pretty clear later on that this was not necessarily the case.
I was hoping that the lessons the students and their professor Julian would go into more in-depth discussion about the Classics and their ways of thinking and living rather than being mostly glossed over, so I was slightly disappointed. However, I did feel a bit bad for poor Julian—he was the very last one to know about Bunny’s death, and it’s clear throughout the book (but especially at that moment of finding out) that he cares for all the students. This makes sense, given that he handpicks them of his own choosing in order to join his class in the first place, but it’s one thing for you as a mentor to like your mentees because they’re smart, and another thing to like your mentees as actual people. It was upsetting that Julian up and fled the country after finding out, though I honestly understand his wanting to get away from a group of murderers (or a murderer, if we’re only blaming Henry since he was the one that orchestrated Bunny’s death in the first place) given that he probably wants to avoid being implicated in such a thing.
When it came to the characters themselves, I don’t think any of them had any development in the positive sense, but definitely so in the negative sense, especially after Bunny was killed off. Francis nearly dies by suicide, Henry actually dies by suicide, Richard gets hurt, Camilla gets hurt, and, well…everyone gets hurt at some point, emotionally, physically, or both. Even Julian doesn’t get away unscathed emotionally (though he does physically since he fled the country as I mentioned earlier). As the book goes through Part 1 (which leads up to the murder of Bunny), it’s very apparent why everyone (except Julian, who’s unaware of all the dissent the others have about each other because he looks more at the positive side of others) grows to hate Bunny to the point that they end up killing him. Part 2 deals with the fallout after his death and the rest of the characters breaking apart. This is not a book where happy endings occur, not even for Richard, and it makes it apparent through this well-written development of the characters’ downfalls.
Overall, I’d give this book a rating of 4 out of 5 stars for the writing style, lack of in-depth class sessions and the various relationships the characters had with each other.