The Secret History

The Secret History Book Review

by E. Stevens

Rating: 4 out of 5.

‘The most impressive aspect of this book was that despite how incredibly unlikeable every single character was, I was still completely engrossed by the story.’

Author: Donna Tartt

Synopsis: Arrogant teenager Richard Papen makes the decision to move to an elite New England college on the spur of the moment. When he arrives, he falls in with a curious group of classics students who appear to be set apart from the rest. But when he unearths their secrets, his life takes on an entirely new meaning.

Review: The Secret History follows the story of Richard Papen, a snobbish young scholar, dissatisfied with his dull town in California. He makes the spontaneous decision to move to Hampden College in New England, where he hopes to find a sense of purpose in his life. There, he is intrigued by a group of outcast students who seem to be almost revered by their peers. Taught solely by an enigmatic classics professor Julian, their mysterious Greek lessons are a source of fascination for Richard. After abandoning his previous subjects and joining their exclusive lessons, he befriends this group of misfits: exceptionally clever but reclusive Henry, secretive Francis, charming twins Charles and Camilla, and Bunny, a jokester who is also strangely deceptive. At first Richard enjoys his new surroundings, but after a tragedy occurs their lives are changed profoundly.

The most impressive aspect of this book was that despite how incredibly unlikeable every single character was, I was still completely engrossed by the story. The protagonist is clearly written to be despised by the reader: Richard Papen is arrogant, snobbish and self-absorbed, and the other characters are equally despicable, some rude and some downright prejudiced. However, despite this, the novel still manages to be completely absorbing, and it is no wonder that Donna Tartt’s novel is so widely recognised as a masterpiece. The only aspect of the book that I didn’t enjoy as much was Julian’s character. It was implied at first that their professor’s influence would be an extremely significant part of the story, but in actual fact he only appeared in a handful of scenes. I felt that his teaching style and supposedly controversial opinions could have been developed further, and this would have given more meaning to the students’ decisions. But despite this, The Secret History was an incredibly atmospheric and engaging read that I would highly recommend.

The Secret History is available at all good book retailer, including Waterstones in St Neots.

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