Written by Lauryn Smith
Immediately after finishing Donna Tartt’s “The Goldfinch” earlier this year, I thought “this-author-and-her-books-are-so-good-I-need-more-like-now.” Luckily, I own a copy of “The Secret History,” which I first read back in high school. Reading it again, my conviction that this woman will forever be one of my favorite authors is even stronger.
“The Secret History” is Tartt’s debut novel. In it, she tells the fictional tale of a tightly knit, isolated group of six students who study Greek at an elite New England college. Yawn? I think not.
Tartt presents the novel’s entire premise from the get-go, so I am not giving away a major plot point when I tell you that one member of the group is murdered by the others. “The Secret History” is commonly referred to as a “murder mystery in reverse.” Once readers are alerted of the murder, the remainder of the book explores the execution and consequences of the crime, as well as the reason behind it.
The narrative is presented as a years-later reflection from the perspective of one of the students, Richard Papen. As he details his college experience, he focuses on the peculiarities of his Greek classmates and Julian, the group’s eccentric, highly revered professor, who is also, unconventionally, the group's only professor. Richard relates the nuanced elements of the many and varied interactions he has with each member of the clique, and these elements incessantly compound until they explode into one of the best twist endings you will ever encounter.
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