Tuesday 13 September 2016

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History


Donna Tartt

It is a “why dunnit” for the first half of the book at least. I found it a bit overlong, just as I did her book The Goldfinch, while at the same time wandering what exactly could have been taken out.

This story not only revolves around a group of Classics Students, notably Greek studies, but aspects of Greek culture, aesthetics and myth are critical to the plot. Tartt clearly researches her background very well and in great depth. But at the same time I always wander whether the necessity of this context makes the story less accessible to readers, yet at the same time I seem to find that she makes it easier for the reader without this background (how many of us were taught Greek in school!) to continue with the book. Similar, to the feelings I had when reading The Goldfinch, so perhaps this is typical for reading her books :) I'll try [book:The Little Friend|775346] one day and figure it out.

I assume that Greek scholars would agree with her description of Greek rings true. She has her narrator describe Greek as "that language innocent of all quirks and cranks; a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiple from action, action marching relentlessly ahead and yet with more actions filing in from either side  to fall into neat step at the rear, in a long straight rank of cause and effect towards what will be inevitable, the only possible end. "

This paragraph stopped me in my tracks. For those of you who know the storyline it is on pg 224 in the paperback edition, and comes just after the revelation to the narrator of Bunny's extortion of Henry, Francis et al following on from Bunny's uncovering of the incident in the woods. Being a “why dunnit”, rather than a “who dunnit*, we know what happened and here is the author making sure we are on the correct track in her unravelling of the process of getting to that conclusion of events expounded in the prologue, to that "inevitable,....only possible end" Her description of Greek, the glue which binds the characters together initially, and how at the same time this describes the train of events which subsequently binds them together - Brilliant. Of itself, this half paragraph enforces in my mind the talent that is Donna Tartt.

ashramblings review 4* No wonder she writes so few novels! Thus we can savour each one.


  1. Great review! I love getting lost in all the detail which her obvious research allows in her works even when it feels unescessary it comes around to feeling I've learned more and even discovered new ways of thinking from the combination of the facts and the fiction. That is not making good sense but it is the best I can do at the moment.

  2. Hi Dottie, thanks for commenting here, makes absolute sense to me :) I've read both her books with my in person book group about 12 months apart, so maybe next year I'll tackle The Little Friend :)