The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Final Ruling: 4.5/5 stars

My goodness gracious, I have been reading so many good books lately it’s been wonderful; adding to that ever-growing list is The Secret History. I don’t even know where to begin with this book, it seriously left me reeling (in the best of ways), I didn’t even know what to do with myself. It made me question all of my morals and begin to look at the people around me in a new and different light.

There was literally nothing about this book that did not take my breath away (well, except for that one thing, but I’ll address that later). Anyways, let’s get back to breathtaking (because frankly, breathtaking is more fun). First on my list of what I loved about this book was the characters. Oh my sweet goodness, the characters. They are diverse, interesting, complex, as well as totally, horribly, fantastically twisted. Call me twisted in turn, but morally ambiguous characters make my world go ’round. Seriously, all six of the main characters are seriously messed up, and Tartt allows us a glimpse into their minds and more importantly, their motivations. By the end of the book, Tartt crafts these characters so masterfully that I actually understood why they did the horrible things that they did. We are first introduced to Richard, who we later learn is actually a semi-decent human being, who just kind of got dragged into all of this murder business because of an affinity for speaking Greek. His morals are ridiculously twisted, and I am actually super grateful that we get to see this story through his eyes, I couldn’t imagine it would have been half as good had the story been told by anyone else. Okay, moving on from our phenomenal narrator, we learn about the quirky Greek professor, Julian. When I first read the introduction to Julian, I honestly thought that he would end up being the antagonist, as he is ridiculously charismatic and very particular about the students he chooses to teach. I was proved to be horribly horribly wrong, as he ends up being relatively innocent, all things considered, and is actually just a quirky, passionate guy. The actual antagonist does not reveal himself as such until much much later in the book, after multiple murders take place and his psyche spirals out of control, eventually ending in his suicide.Henry is the token dark and brooding “anti-hero”. At first, I thought he was actually really cool and smart and would develop like all of the other anti-heroes I am always reading about. However, the crimes and schemes he puts together take a monumental hit on his mind. Call me twisted (once again I guess), but his downward spiral is absolutely fascinating, and the fact that we get to witness his descent into madness is ridiculously amazing. This book is the first I have read that allows us to glimpse that descent firsthand, and to witness their direct repercussions, which was truly breathtaking. Of course, there are the other six characters to consider, whose twisted minds are just as interesting. Francis is  a sweet clingy cinnamon roll who is far too good for everything that has been happening (he is most definitely my favorite). Charles and Camilla, on the other hand, are not so sweet; they are beautiful and more twisted than any of the others in my opinion, seeing as they are siblings (twins no less), who sleep together, which is just totally cringe-worthy.

If you would please excuse my long-winded love of the characters, I will move on to express my wholehearted love of the way it was written. I know, beyond a doubt, that this book and Tartt’s writing, will haunt me for some time. Donna Tartt’s writing is ridiculously beautiful (quite possibly some of the most beautiful writing I have ever read), and it is with that flowery lyricism that she outlines horrific happenings, downward spirals into madness, and a group of college students teetering on the edge of ‘right and wrong’. She also integrates an immense amount of what I see as the “Inception-factor”. She writes about a group of students studying the Greeks, their customs, their language, their literature, and most importantly, their tragedies. As they study these stories, the lives of the students unfurl to directly mirror the plot of a Greek tragedy, complete with multiple deaths, revelry, incest, hardship, and moral ambiguity. It is amazing how Tartt literally creates her own modern Greek tragedy, one whose characters are frighteningly relatable and whose landscape is far more realistic than anybody would like to admit.

I would recommend this to everybody of mature enough mind to handle such moral ambiguity (seriously, it gave me many an existential crisis). So, brace yourselves, because The Secret History is not something to be taken lightly.

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