BOOK REVIEW: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Monday, July 31, 2017 Rocío N. 0 Comments

photos: oregonlive, amazon

"Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it."

When I first started reading "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt, I had just finished with the ancient Greek tragedy "Medea" by Euripides (a must read, by the way), and considering the novel would have something to do with the Classics, I felt well equipped to start my journey into Tartt's vision of a collegiate New England. When I was well into the story, I noticed a general background knowledge about the Greek god Dionysus (Bacchus) or the ancient Greek lifestyle would surely encourage a deeper understanding and analysis of Tartt's first novel. You see, dear reader, "The Secret History" is almost entirely based on this eminent connection. Therefore an awareness of the context would positively expand the reader's appreciation of the parallelisms planted on paper.

The novel begins in a vignetted black and white daydream, each scene fluttering with adjectives and a profound attention to imagery. It explores Richard Papen's sudden association with the class of Julian Morrow and depicts his "transition" from blue-collar college boy to wealthy pretentious highbrow. His kinship with new classmates Henry, Bunny, Francis, Charles, and Camilla is solidified here and consequently precedes a sudden but calculated turn of events. The book is split into two parts by a deep, red gash – the second part only being slightly more saturated than the first (though an explanation thereof could make me accidentally tarnish the novel for you by spoiling the very aspects of what makes the novel as great as it is). The subject matter in the novel intensifies ad infinitum – the character development is constant and aligns itself perfectly with the plotline. As the story sinks further and further into tragedy, so do the relationships between characters. It is through this alignment that we understand that "The Secret History" is not just an elaborate telling of Greek fanaticism, student life, and murder, but more importantly a deeper examination of the compelling properties that come with it.

Consistent and tantalising, Tartt's powerful prose is enough to keep a reader from putting the book down at any given moment. Every element bears importance to "The Secret History" in its totality, much like the creation of "The Last Supper" by Leonardo da Vinci. Her ability to weave the unthinkable into something seemingly reasonable is astounding…which even the narrator (Richard Papen) begins to realise after the novel's fatal moments. This realisation horrifies him, and while his initial attempts at integration succeed, we learn sooner or later that the hubris he seeks would assert itself as his own hamartia, leading both him and the reader through a slow-burn descent into an all-consuming madness.

TL;DR "The Secret History" is an astonishing telling of a dramatic hero's fall into the unresolved catastrophic. If a Greek tragedy were made contemporary, this would be exactly it.

Rocío x

Learn more about the book here.
Learn more about the author here.