Donna Tartt sure was paying attention in English 101, because she can write a hook-you-instantly opener like no one else. My ten minutes of reading before bed quickly stretched into half an hour as I raced on, both repulsed an attracted to the 'elite group of clever misfits' at the novel's core.
The Secret History is an American campus novel with an interesting focus. The protagonists are largely detached from the cheap, post-adolescent exuberance that surrounds them but play out their own decadent culture of wealth, dead languages and the peculiar boredom that is felt by brilliant minds. It is in this setting that Tartt coolly opens before us the possibilities of a life unburdened by standard moral codes, and without judgement exposes the choices which both build and are built by extraordinary – though not wholly good – people.
The novel is divided into two parts, one before and one after the *spoiler alert!* murder. It's told in first-person narrative but is curiously empty of strong emotions or biases in the language, perhaps to highlight the blankness of feeling in most of the characters. Despite the heavy plot line The Secret History is not an overly dramatic or difficult read, and the interludes of normalcy of campus life are not jarring when woven through the main event of the story. The plotline certainly gets darker towards the end, finishing with a confusing twist of justice.
I would recommend The Secret History to anyone who enjoys complex characters, narratives of choice and impending adulthood, or simply novels with enough Latin and Ancient Greek spattered throughout to leave you feeling smug. As a Penguin Classic you should be able to pick up a copy for ten dollars, or follow my lead in scouring the second-hand dealers.