The Secret History

The Secret HistoryThe Secret History by Donna Tartt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I loved this novel, and I’m sorry I waited as long as I did to read it! It’s hard for me to put into words the deep familiarity I felt with Tartt’s setting and characters. Though the novel takes place in a fictional small, Northeastern liberal arts college (a thinly veiled version of Bennington) so much of it reminded me of my own alma mater, Sarah Lawrence College, that I found myself struck by the universality of experience that seems to be shared by all small, Northeastern liberal arts colleges. Every drum circle, every performance art piece, every empty paint can passed around the cafeteria to collect funds for a party, every drugged out co-ed sniffing coke off a dorm desk, and every student desperate to convince others they come from a background wealthier (or sometimes not as wealthy) than they actually did was instantly recognizable to me.

Tartt wisely takes the time to etch her characters indelibly into the reader’s mind through their interactions, until you very nearly loses track of the fact that these are terrible, terrible people. And yet, on some level you want them to get away with their crimes and feel a sense of nervous suspense when the trail of clues leads too closely back to them. Speaking of, the inclusion of an unusually strong plot for a college-based literary novel is another thing I loved about it. I’m tempted to call THE SECRET HISTORY a crime novel in disguise, one worthy of comparison to some of the best works of Donald E. Westlake, but that feels reductive. THE SECRET HISTORY is more than the sum of its parts. Brilliantly written, precisely executed, and a surprisingly fast, engrossing read for a novel of its length and density, I urge anyone interested in reading it to pick it up. Don’t wait like I did. This is a novel you’ll likely want to talk about for years to come — and if you happened to attend a small, Northeastern liberal arts college, it’s a novel that will likely hold up an uncomfortable (and at times nostalgic) mirror to your own experiences.

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