The Secret History by Donna Tartt

secret history

In The Secret History we follow six Classical Greek students in Vermont college. In the first couple of pages it is revealed that this group of friends killed one of them. So the story is a why-dun-it rather than a who-dun-it, and about the aftermath of the killing. Great premise.

I read the second half of the book on a boat in Greece and Turkey so The Secret History is officially my summer and holiday reading:

reading on a boat
Can’t lie – it’s pretty awesome to spend your holiday reading on a boat :)

As The Goldfinch is more recently out, everybody on the boat seemed to have read it and ask me if I had read it too. I haven’t. The Secret History is my first Donna Tartt book, and I do realize I’m a bit late to the party. In fact I wonder a bit whether the book has gotted a bit dated. Though it was only published in 1992 – so our world is still largely similar, the non-existence of mobile phone was a bit jarring. There are a large amount of calling to someone’s flat or someone’s dorm, and trying to contact someone by landline, and not being able to reach the person. It’s similar to the slight annoyance you feel when you watch movies from the 90s, and major plot points hinge on people not being able to contact each other immediately with mobile phone, and you think there’s no way stories like this could happen again now.

I liked that the book is very readable. I think it’s a perfect beach read (or boat read or holiday read) – or any time when you have a big chunk of reading time, since it is 660 pages long. So since I read it during the holiday I didn’t mind too much that it’s so long – kinda reminded me of the 5th book of Harry Potter, both of which are very readable. But really they went on and on and on. After about 2/3 of it though I’m pretty fed up with all the characters being drunk or drugged 90% of the time. I never liked people’s drunk stories and I don’t like being drunk myself, so I had little empathy for all the drunkenness.

Tons of bloggers/readers love this book I know, so I didn’t quite expect my lukewarm reaction. I wonder if I would’ve felt differently if I read it when it was out. I have a feeling that the book just doesn’t date very well. I’d be interested to know what you think if you’re one of those people who just read this book in the past couple of years.

Mee’s rating: 3.5/5 starsIt’s a very readable book, but I didn’t love it as much as I hoped. Will probably read The Goldfinch though.

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8 thoughts on “The Secret History by Donna Tartt”

  1. I’m so glad you finally read this even though it didn’t agree with you. I read it when it first came out and then re-read it only last year and I still loved it. I never really thought of it as dated probably because I read a lot of novels that don’t feature mobile phones. I do however sometimes feel that if a novel has too many modern technological features it will probably date quite fast. Interesting.

    1. Sakura I quite liked the book, just did not fall too hard for it. I’m really glad I read it.
      Maybe it’s just me about the mobile phone thing. I have a thing about the 90s period setting, because everything else is as modern as now, except for one little thing – mobile phone technology. And when a lot of the story lines move because someone can’t be contacted by landline or does not pick up the phone, and therefore have to be visited in person, and the timing of the visits are crucial to the story and so forth, I became too aware of the use of it as plot device, and was taken a bit out of the story, if that makes sense.

      1. Absolutely. And to be honest, the mobile phone technology (and e-mail) has changed our lives so much. Somehow I seem to be more forgiving of books regarding technology unless it’s one which has already become obsolete (walkman, etc. except when it’s supposed to illustrate the historical period) although not so much in real life!

        1. I haven’t actually read a lot of books with modern technology, as I don’t read many contemporary books. I wonder if I’d have a problem with that in books. But I don’t have problem with it in movies, like “Her” for example – I loved that film!

  2. Thank you for your honest and interesting review, Mee. I haven’t read this book, but I’ve read enough about it to have some sense about it.

    1. Suko, I thought I’d read enough about it too to have some sense about it. I guess in some ways it was like what I expected, in some ways it wasn’t :)

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