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Book Club: ‘The Secret History’ by Donna Tartt ****

I was thoroughly delighted to finally get around to reading Tartt’s critically acclaimed ‘The Secret History’ published back in 1992, which fast became a bestseller and cult classic, and I am very glad it was a novel both Kirsty and I were able to treasure.

Somewhat reminiscent of a Greek tragedy, The Secret History follows young Richard Papen’s stay at an elite Vermont college with a closely knit group of Greek classicists prior to the revelation of a murder that we are aware Papen has played some part in. Tartt discloses early on through introduction to Papen vague details concerning the death of Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran, a student among the group Papen later joins. We are immediately aware of such murder taking place, albeit ambiguously, therefore taking the novel in the direction of playing an almost inverted detective thriller. Thus, we are inclined to follow the events which take place onwards in order to come to an understanding as to why Bunny’s death took place, rather than how

Rich and aesthetic in detail, Tartt has crafted keen imagery with regards to the dynamics of both the group and ‘gleam’ of setting. My expectations were far surpassed by the likes of how certain sequences are described, especially concerning Hampden College and the behaviour of the Greek students. The characterisation is by far impressive and superb, and I thought Papen quite Nick Carraway-esque with regards to his isolation and loneliness. Much like The Great Gatsby – which is, in fact, referred to in the same sense directly by Papen – Papen seems to be the social outcast, the ‘external character’ whose perspective we are forced to inherit and through whom we perceive all of these characters. Not only is there an immense sense of pure scandal and unmistakable psychoanalysis, but there is also a riveting narrative and although I was never fond of Richard at any moment during the novel, I did learn to appreciate the structure of his narration and his ways of documenting events. I did find the character development particularly tremendous on Tartt’s part as despite my indifference to most of the characters she crafted – with the exception of Julian, perhaps, and maybe Henry – I was thoroughly enthralled by them all. I also thought Tartt’s diction with regards to the classic philosophoical discussions between them all entirely bewitching, and it made me regret leaving classical studies at A-Level.

More than anything I am thrilled both Kirsty and I enjoyed this book, and I cannot wait to read more of Tartt’s work and delve into more of her stories. The effort and tremendous feat with which she has poured into this novel makes it both a work of masterly talent and overwhelming opulence. I think Kirsty and I will both be picking up another work of hers very soon indeed, and I very much look forward to reviewing another one of her novels in the near future.

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