Friday 20 December 2013

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I have heard so many rave reviews and glowing testimonials about this book from my younger colleagues in the bookshop over the years, that I've been wondering how on earth I missed hearing about The Secret History when it first came out.

What was I doing in 1992/3 that allowed me to completely miss the hype surrounding this book?

I cannot answer this in any way that provides satisfaction or clarification. I was teaching. I was reading. I watched the news and read the weekend papers. I discussed books with anyone I could find. But The Secret History never crossed my radar.

However, I can tell you that a number of years ago, whilst browsing through a second hand bookshop on holidays, I came across a copy in very good condition.
With my colleagues in mind, I bought it & began reading it straight away, to see what all the fuss was about.

I was a little puzzled.

The who-dunnit was revealed early on so that we were left with a why-dunnit. So far so good.
The place and time were lovingly drawn; I could picture the campus, feel the cold & remember the insecurities and awkwardness of the age.
But I have to confess that I didn't really care about any of the characters.
I didn't care that one of them was done away with by the others in the group and I didn't really care about their motivations.

Whilst I enjoyed the book as a whole & appreciated what Tartt achieved, it certainly hasn't ended up on any of my favourite/Top 10 lists at any point.

Maybe you need to be a certain age or at a certain time in your life to discover the true joys of this book?

Five years later, I'm still trying to work out why The Secret History didn't weave the kind of magic on me that it has on so many others.

Was I too old and too removed from the college experience to succomb to it's hedonistic urges again?
Were my expectations too high?

The Secret History has become my secret mystery; an enjoyable enough read but why all the fuss?

I'm posting this as a Flashback Friday post (although I've just discovered that Lisa is having a hiatus over Christmas!)


  1. I feel just the same way about it. It should be the sort of book I love, but instead it was overlong and not that great. Why do people love it so? I was in college in '92-93 and I'm puzzled that I didn't see it. Seems like I should have.

  2. I didn't love it either. I read The Likeness at the same time and it's incredibly similar and I enjoyed it more.

    1. Thanks Jean & Melissa, I thought I was the only one & felt a little nervous about dissing such a favourite!

      I'm reading The Goldfinch right now (just over half way through) and just starting to struggle with it, which prompted me to rethink how I felt about TSH.

  3. Ahh, one of the very first "I did not really like it" reviews I have ever seen of The Secret History. It's definitely one of my Top Ten books of all time. But you know, not every book will resonate with every reader. For instance, I myself did not really like The Great Gatsby, and yet this is tantamount to sacrilege nowadays!
    I also loved The Goldfinch, maybe not as much as I loved The Secret History -- but close.
    Right now I am reading The Sisters Brothers -- and it is a dandy! So simple -- it's gruesome at times, but yet in a funny, light way. I would recommend it to you as a refresher, to cleanse your palette, after you have had this bit of a struggle with The Secret History.

    1. I plan to post my seesawing review of The Goldfinch tomorrow...

      What was it about TSH & TG that resonated with you so strongly?

  4. Anonymous20/12/13

    You are not alone. I had the same experience. I started the book, put it down and shoved it to the back of my bookshelf. I finally read it just to see what all the fuss was about. Still not a fan of Tartt and don''t feel I want to spend time on The Goldfinch. I have too many other books waiting for me! ps Just finished Tim Cope's On the Trails of Genghis Khan. Too late to add it to AusReadMonth? It was terriffic!

    1. Sadly too late for AusReadng Month, but I've been hearing such good things about the Tim Cope book. It's also one of our surprise best sellers this Christmas at work.

  5. I think you're spot on about the time being significant in loving a book - I read this when I was studying Greek/classics at university, so it really resonated (although I did not find it necessary to murder anyone!). I wonder how I would feel about it now, without that omnipresent interest as a factor?

    1. I think one's early 20's are a particularly curious time.
      I had a number of very special books from that time myself, but when I tried to reread them in my 30's & 40's I struggled to finish them.

  6. I don't usually comment, but wanted to let you know that I've been following for some time, and that I appreciate your posts.

    1. Thank you so much.
      It's lovely to know who my regular readers are :-)

  7. Anonymous21/12/13

    Sorry to let you down Brona! I thought I'd better not schedule FF this week and next, since I was possibly going out of town... Flashback Friday will be back in January!!

    Regarding The Secret History - well, I always thought I was the only one! I just didn't see what all the fuss was about, didn't find it compelling, and didn't enjoy the characters. It always puzzles me when people tell me it's on their list of favorites. To each his/her own, I guess!

    Lisa @ Bookshelf Fantasies

    1. At least my post has helped all of us TSH doubters to come out of the closet together :-)

  8. I did find TSH back in the early/mid 90s, and really, really loved it. With all the hoopla around The Goldfinch I've been wondering if I should try and reread it, as I remember basically nothing, except that I loved it. But then that adds two big books to my TBR, which is already more than I can hope to read before I die. Still, it's tempting.

  9. Anonymous31/12/13

    I liked The Secret History. I read it when I was 29 or 30. It's not my favorite book or anything, but I liked the writing, and found the characters were interesting even though not particularly likable. I think I liked Francis the best and the scenes at Bunny's funeral. There were a couple aspects that annoyed me though, like Richard's adoration of Camilla and the ending.


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