The Secret History – Donna Tartt [REVIEW]

Wow. What can I say about this book?

I spent several years of my life reading largely “classic” or “literary” novels while at university and in school. And I love them. These are my sorts of books as much as “genre” ones are. So when people kept telling me I had to read Donna Tartt’s novels, I added this one to my TBR pile (aka Amazon wish list) and promised I’d read it. And there it sat for a good long while, until my friend Chris let me borrow his copy of the book – and then of course I read it much quicker because it’s rude to hold onto friend’s books for a long time!

secretPaperback: 660 pages

Publisher: Penguin Books; Reprint edition (1 July 1993)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 0804111359

ISBN-13: 978-0140167771

ASIN: 0140167773


Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.

What I liked about this book:

1. Everything! (Atmosphere)

EVERYTHING. Okay, no, let’s be serious. But the atmosphere of this book is hands-down one of the best things about it. From the very first page there is this sense of tragedy that just looms overhead while you read. You can feel it coming; it seeps from every page until you’re sure you can’t stand it anymore – and yet you keep reading and it keeps getting darker and somehow… better. I don’t even know how. It’s amazing. It’s so deliciously dark and depressing, and you’re torn between wanting to curl up in bed with a cup of tea and needing to know what’s going to happen next.

2. Language

The language is another hugely successful element of this novel. Donna Tartt is one of the best writers I think I’ve ever read. There is something about the fluidity of her language, the way she describes things in ways that I had never thought of before, that just makes the whole book so readable. A lot of people don’t like lengthy descriptive passages, but I don’t think that this novel ever really steps into the self-indulgent, because it’s all part of the Greek atmosphere, all part of this snowballing sense of danger.

The language is crafted so carefully that you could almost be forgiven for forgetting the way you normally speak in favour of this romantic, tragic sort of way instead. I have to say, only in novels by Fitzgerald have I seen such lovely metaphors before. I’m still drooling. (And insanely jealous).

3. Character (yes, yes, I know)

I’m not going to ramble about this, because I always do, but each of these characters is so perfectly created. They’re realistic whilst also having this sense of the unreal about them, this mythical Greek tragedy air. They’re wonderful, and horrible, and I hated them. And I loved to hate them.

4. Plot

This novel has to be one of the better plotted ones I’ve seen in a while as well. I wish I could plot like this! As I’ve said before, the novel seems to snowball, gathering speed towards a dramatic conclusion while never losing its air of melancholy and tragedy. I felt in completely safe hands the whole time I was reading, and I didn’t want the novel to end. And I’m sad it has.

What I didn’t like:

… I actually have nothing to say here.

This book is definitely deserving of being called a modern classic. It might not be your cup of tea if you don’t like books that take a while to read because you have to sit on them and digest them in order to appreciate their full glory, books that are so wonderfully written that you don’t mind a half a page description of a room… If you don’t like those things, maybe this book is not for you.

But if you want to learn something about description and careful plotting, about weaving together modern stories with strong notes of Greek tragedy and the hidden past, then please please please by all means pick this book up. Don’t let it’s (kind of) dull cover and blurb put you off. It’s worth every second.




6 thoughts on “The Secret History – Donna Tartt [REVIEW]

  1. Book Guy Reviews says:

    Love this. Thank you for sharing the wonderful review! I’m currently reading The Goldfinch, which is wonderful. If you’re ever interested in some other awesome book reviews and literary musings, be sure to follow! Thanks!!!


  2. bookcrumble says:

    I always read books people have lent me so much quicker too, the less time i borrow it for means the less time i have to wear and tear their copy.

    The blurb certainly didn’t give me a good grasp of what the book would be about – very modest and minimal – which made the revelations throughout even more shocking because i didn’t expect such a debacle.

    I must give Goldfinch a go but not quite sure if i’ll enjoy it as much either – but it’s worth a try after this gem! 🙂


    • franwritesstuff says:

      I agree completely. The blurb is clever in a way because it keeps the novel a secret (ha) but it does make everything that happens more shocking, definitely.

      I also agree about Goldfinch. If the writing is half as beautiful I think I’ll like it despite the plot – but it isn’t a short novel! 🙂


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