The Secret History Book Review
By Chloe Hunt '21
I love crime and thriller movies: Knives Out, The Firm, The Departed, and really anything like that. Movies have the unique ability to keep you on the edge of your seat and really make you want to eat popcorn, but so many people believe that they can only find that exciting, suspenseful element in movies rather than literature. After all, I do not think I am alone as a high school student in saying that a movie is typically more engaging than a book.
That is why I love The Secret History. This story kept me on the edge of my seat, so-to-speak, from the very beginning. An inverted crime novel, this thrilling piece will draw you in in an inescapable manner, even if you think you do not like books. My only critique is that this book is long, a stunning 592 pages, but it also provides an unique and exciting escape from reality.
The narrative begins with a lower-class teen from California attending college in Vermont. The narrator is immersed into an environment of intellectual sophistication, and he befriends students who are studying the Classics with a questionable professor. However, this group spends a lot of time not focused on school, but rather in a drug-filled haze, which leads them to kill someone. The novel revolves around this story line.
The book about murder is not new– in fact, it is done quite frequently. What is so interesting about The Secret History is primarily the perspective. So many murder mysteries are told through a third person omniscient narrative, which can garble the essence of the story. However, this novel is told through the first person point of view, Richard Papen, which enhances the chilling atmosphere of the book and makes it a more compelling read.
What is also interesting is that the author, Donna Tartt, provides a new take on the murder mystery. It is not a “who-dun-it,” but a “why-done-it.” From the beginning (so this is not a spoiler), the audience becomes aware that the narrator was culpable in a murder. As the reader, you will initially be left confused, which is why I urge you to keep reading. Tartt’s prose is not just strong, but it is so deliberate, using each word to craft a narrative so compelling that page turning becomes irresistible.
I am certainly late to the game reading this novel nearly 20 years after its publication, but I do not think I am alone. I urge all high school students to find a hard copy (more fun to read) or just search for a PDF online. Whenever you find yourself jaded by your studies of calculus or Spanish, start reading The Secret History, because as cliché as it may sound, all of its wonders are so secret and so special.
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