Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Sunday Book: The Secret History - Donna Tartt

I know! The Sunday Book on a Sunday - revolutionary! I thought I would mix things up and be punctual for once. When I say punctual I obviously mean that I read this two weeks ago in Bologna but today is still a Sunday so... Snaps for me, right?

I've been meaning to read The Secret History for a couple of years but the 'rents had lost their copy, I didn't get around to buying one, I forgot, blah blah blah. Then I saw a copy when browsing in my local Oxfam bookshop (heart) and I actively slotted it into my diary and waited excitedly. It is on a lot of people's 'My Favourite Books' list, notably Reese Witherspoon and Christina's, and one of my flatmates has just loved it. I *drumroll* enjoyed it. I realise that sounds a bit understated but murder mysteries aren't really my thing so that is a positive review. Obviously it is something of an oversimplification to call this a murder mystery but that is basically the genre. It is less of a whodunnit, more of a how and whydunnit and an interesting look at the moral and personal consequences of murder. The basic plot is revealed in the first couple of pages - a group of college students feel prompted to murder one of their friend. You have to read on to discover the before and after.

The murder was engaging as these things go (that sounds weird) but I really loved the setting, the characters and the look at academia. I want to go to New England! It all sounds so preppy and delightful, except for the whole murder thing. I don't know whether it is parody or reality but it makes me want to visit! There is also something purposefully clichéd about the narrator Richard's fellow classics students. Certainly I recognise some of my peers straining at similar eccentricities. In the book though the effect is charming for the most part, although occasionally frustrating. Most interesting though is Tartt's ambiguous take on the dangers of academia. The characters seem to lose touch with their modern moral compasses as they become more engrossed in ancient history, literature and myth. I don't think the book is intended as an inditement of these things but possibly as a warning? I am going to stop trying to be clever because my dissertation has sucked all my words and intelligent thoughts out of me...

Definitely read this if you like (unusual) murder mysteries, I'm sure you'll love it.
Probably read this anyway because everyone seems to have an opinion on it and it is nice to be able to contribute.
Personally - liked it even if I didn't love it (not my genre of choice); well written; thought the ending re: Henry was a bit of a cop out; generally enjoyed it anyway though.

Apologies for the incoherence. Has anyone read it?

Happy Easter btw.

Chuck x


  1. Ooh, I've been meaning to read this for a while too.I love unusual murder mysteries so I think it would definitely be my cup of tea - thanks for the recommendation!

  2. I liked this and found it addictive,
    but I wouldn't say I lovedit!

  3. Ooh sounds good, I've been wanting to read something a bit different from what I usually pick so will check this one out x