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Book Review | The Secret History

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The Secret History by Donna Tartt is not a typical murder mystery novel. Honestly, after reading it, I found it barely seemed to fit the genre at all. You know from the very beginning who will die. The author lays out the whole murder scene in the prologue. So instead of trying to figure out who committed the murder and how, the reader is trying to piece together the why. What was it that drove the killer to murder?

I picked up this book on a whim, but mostly because for some reason the synopsis reminded me of Dead Poets Society, which is one of my favorite movies. However the story turned out to be darker and very very different than what I expected. Not necessarily in a bad way, though.

The reader follows the narration of the main character, Richard as he joins a mysterious community made up of the five other kids in his Classics class. Richard was a somewhat dull character. There was nothing interesting about him or his voice in telling the story, but I found it to be nice. Richard, to me, represented an average, everyday person, someone with whom the reader can relate to. It makes the other characters seem much more interesting and different in contrast.

The five students who make up the strange club are all very unique, but equally untrustworthy. Even when they seemed like great people, I had a hard time believing everything they said, but I felt like that was how they were supposed to be written, especially Henry. Henry Winter was the most fascinating out of the group. His past remains very secretive throughout the whole book, the author only revealing bits of who he is every once in a while. I still am uncertain how I really feel about him.

I also really enjoyed learning a little bit about Classics as I was reading. Classics and the ancient would are very interesting to me, and reading a book with Classics as a theme was great.

However, there were some trivial problems I found while I was reading. The amount of information the reader receives is unproportional. Some of this probably has to do with Richard's narration, you can only know what he knows or what he finds out, but some was not. There were certain, unimportant things that would be explained and described in tedious detail, while other, way more important things would be somewhat skimmed over in a way that made it hard for me to understand.

Also I mourned the lack of the presence of the character, Julian, the professor. Based on the synopsis, I expected Julian to be a powerful presence in the novel. I imagined him being a John Keating type of influence on the actions of the students, when in reality, he only made an appearance maybe three times in the whole book. But in those cameos, I really liked him, and desperately wished he was a bigger character. I feel like if he had been in it more, I would've been able to understand the actions of the main characters better.

Despite all of this, I did love this book. It was a very dark read, but the writing and descriptions in this book were stunning, and I definitely want to pick up more by Donna Tartt someday.
“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” 
― Donna TarttThe Secret History

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