The Secret History by Donna Tartt: Twisted and Dark

“What the hell did I just read?” was my response upon finishing my second read of the year. The Secret History by Donna Tartt, so different from what I had earlier expected, evoked a feeling so peculiar in light of the conflation of its dark-academia aesthetic and the tragedy that happened within. Reading this book felt more like a twisted ride. Finishing it was certainly another.

Following the story of Richard Pappen, fresh from high school to med school to the dark trajectory of his life at a small college in Hampden, this book starts with an unraveling truth: a murder of his friend Bunny, done by him and his little group led by a guy named Henry. A blank page later, the first of the two parts of this book starts. While book one details how everything spirals out of control until the cold-blooded murder takes place, book two talks about the aftermath of the calamity, about how each of the perpetrators deals with it.

In navigating college, Richard stumbles upon a closed, almost alienated, group of Greek literature students. Julian, the professor, hardly accepts new candidates, which leaves the class with only five pupils: Henry, Bunny, Francis, and the twins: Charles and Camilla. Richard is soon intrigued by the group's enthralling enigma, searching for a hole in which he can fit himself into what seems like a picturesque circle of the college's elites.

A wild ride that it was, upon finishing the last page of this book, I was haunted with even more questions, theories so many that I wasn't sure where to begin. The Secret History was surely not what I had thought it would be: dark yet compelling, I couldn't seem to stop looking for answers, both during and after. Sadly though, even after chapter after chapter was finished, my thirst for more explanations was not yet satisfied. I couldn't decide what it meant: was it good or was it bad; did it leave room for personal speculation or did it simply leave some things unanswered.

One thing was for sure: it was a slow-paced, beautifully-written book, somehow very suitable with the dark and eerie ambiance the plot seemed to create. It was the kind of book that stood unbothered in your mind, unforgotten for at least a few years. Also the book you googled to find out what the community had to say, whether you had misunderstood a chapter or two. While the characters were terrible people and some motives remained opaque, The Secret History managed to compel me to read more, and more, and more, until book one was disclosed completely, and my mind went blank for a few seconds.

Book two, it seemed, was less secretive and more telling. It consisted of excessive drinking and other substances, leaving me worried that the plot wouldn't be as haunting as the first part. While it revealed the unimaginable and finally left me with wider gapes, I could somehow understand the necessity of the little details written: guilty-driven actions, and a part of morality they were still somewhat left with. The characters were very solid too, though I couldn't say the same for Richard (I felt like I barely knew anything important about him, which was weird since the book was written from his point of view).

In conclusion, you might like this book if you haven't read it yet, but there's no guarantee that the opposite wouldn't happen instead. It's a book you would either enjoy or hate, in between would be a very unlikely case.

Actual rating: 4.5