A review by nofinersteiner
The Secret History by Donna Tartt


A long, literary book about everything and nothing. In some ways, the entire book was spent with five people perpetually drunk and smoking cigarettes. In others, they went on their own little Odysseys.

In some ways, the characterizations reminded me a lot of Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, in that all characters acted situationally, rather than adhering to some strict set of traits that they had. It made all six characters: Richard (narrator), Francis, Henry, Bunny (dead), Camilla and Charles both amorphous and real. They were difficult to assign a quality.

The way that Tartt writes about regret, guilt, and the subconscious is excellent. She talks about splitting and being "found out" in ways that felt palpable and real. And the book never felt like a chore to read. It moved quickly, despite being too long. That said, the actions of this book primarily consist of drinking, smoking cigarettes, and walking across campus, sweating. Richard didn't clean his sheets like, once. And everyone came in and sat on his nasty bed! But I suppose that's how Tartt grounds you in the day-to-day moments. The language can be big and true, and small and unnecessary.

It's such a long book. It doesn't need its length. But still, I find it successfully reaches for a lot: Richard's jealousy and desire to fit in, group think and dynamics, money and wealth and power, secrecy, reaching for some kind of ecstatic understanding or sublime to escape that little voice in their own heads, guilt and conscience, those darn Greeks and Romans whose words still haunt us. Grief and performance of grief. "Beauty is terror." "Beauty is harsh." The queerness in this book is not a subject but a part of its paranoia and secrecy.

Is this book romanticizing the Classics? and the Erudite way they lived? Or is it satire of its ridiculousness? Making fun of their egos and their inflated senses of selves and their money?

Poor Bunny. The dude died not because he blackmailed them or stole their money, but most of all for the most unforgivable sin of being fucking annoying. And he was fucking annoying.

Re-reading Julien's Socratic Method about madness and Bachanae at the conclusion of the book is worthwhile. It ties the whole thing together. I really thought he would be a bigger presence in the book, at least in terms of dialogue. For the amount of influence and devotion he inspired particularly from Henry and Richard, he isn't all that big a part of this book. Just a benevolent and wise guy at their periphery. I wish there was more of his lectures in this book. I would've fallen for it just like they all did.

Craft-wise, the split between Book One and Book Two rocked. They felt like different entities: one about conspiracy and academia and unease; the other a full-on dissolution into paranoia and coping. Fear and enactment of those fears. The changes of setting: idealistic college into a frozen winter into dark Bacchanae into murder scene into community grieving, anxiety, the tension on the campus, and finally the dissolution of all the characters into their worst impulses.

It's prob 3.5/5. I liked it but I wish I was wowed by it. I can already sense that there's some criticism and lore behind this book. That the way it's talked about will make it more interesting or memorable. Which I will dive into now.