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The Secret History [Paperback]

Donna Tartt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (456 customer reviews)

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DOES SUCH a thing as "the fatal flaw," that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good but flawed March 12 2003
Since I'm so late to the game with regards to Donna Tartt's hit novel "The Secret History", I'll just try to list the things I found striking about the book, both positive and negative:
1) The author is clearly knowledgeable about ancient Greek, and conveys some of the power and expressiveness inherent in the language (or so I imagine -- I never studied it myself, but I would like to after reading this book).
2) "The Secret History" is definitely a page-turner. I read it in a mad frenzy over three days. I think the author "cheated" to keep my interest though -- clues to the plot are parcelled out quite parsimoniously and the reader is forced to share the confusion and gradual dawning of the narrator. It's well done but frustrating; the epicenter of my annoyance lies with the character of Henry, who is inscrutable and enigmatic throughout. The novel might have been less exciting without this haze thrown over the main characters' motivations, but it seems kind of cheap to build suspense by teasing the reader with half-heard conversations and veiled comments all the time.
3) The characters are drawn quickly and convincingly, but not fleshed out as much as I'd expect from such an ambitious novel. Otherwise I think the author's writing style is very good -- some nice turns of phrase but still very readable and not show-offy. Some reviewers here have complained about the brief bits of non-English dialogue. There are a few times when it's not translated, but they were rare enough not to bother me.
4) You can definitely guess what kind of college life the author had from "The Secret History". In the book she mercilessly stereotypes vapid cokeheads, aggressive party boys and loopy hippies.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Why so much hype? Jan. 24 2003
I bought this book because I read in Newsweek that it had a cult following. The cover of the book quotes reviews saying it is "impossible to leave alone until I finished" and that "the pages beg to be turned." Unfortunately, I didn't find it to be so exciting. The prologue reveals that the Hampden College students in the book will kill a fellow student named Bunny. Then, Richard Papen, the narrator, begins the story telling how he got to Hampden and how became one of the group of students studying Greek exclusively under a professor named Julian Morrow. The story of how the murder occurred and what happened in its aftermath unfolds. The narrator presents the turns and twists of the story unemotionally so that the driving force of the book is more the weirdness of the relationships that have developed between the students than it is actual events. I never felt emotionally attached to the characters, connected to any guilt they may have felt, or concerned about their fates. I experienced the novel with a complacency that allowed me to "leave [it] alone" numerous times. I will say that the narrator describes the New England surroundings and the college's atmosphere with a vividness. The word choices are more lyrical and intellectual than your typical pop-culture book. Despite this, I feel the writing style was less challenging than _Harper's Magazine_. I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone, but if you're interested in it, I suggest you read it for yourself to see if you agree with me.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Amazon Pick! May 11 2005
When we think of murder, we almost without exception regard it as a profoundly unethical, inhumane and immoral act. But even so, murders do occur, and consequently we often consider those who have committed murder as, in a fundamental way, different from those who have not, and explaining them being able to commit such horrible acts by thinking of them as abnormal or just plain insane.
In Donna Tartts The Secret History another explanation to murder is offered. Tartt refuses to portray the act of murder as a consequences of one single decision or motive, but instead tries to reveal those psychological mechanism that make murder possible; it is with far reaching insights, and a great sense of detail that she shows that no one step in the chain is larger than the other. Once the unthinkable becomes thinkable, it is close to become an option, and once an option, it is not far from deliberated, and then we are well on the way to the act itself. Tartt shows murder to be something banal, and that is what makes her book so relevant, and at the same time so disturbing, because once in face of this conclusion about murder, the distance between those who are able to commit it, and those who are not, vanishes; it is not a criminal mind that makes a murderer, it is circumstances, and once in such circumstances there is nothing that reveals them to be out of the ordinary.
So now you know someone is going to be murdered even before you have opened the book. But don't despair, Tartt were not trying to hold you in suspense about what was going to happen, the murder is a given from the get-go. Instead she sets out to do something much more difficult; to portray an answer to the question WHY a murder took place at all.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Despite myself, I found "The Secret History" very engaging. The plot was unique and intriguing. And the novel was very "atmospheric".
Tartt's blatant attempt to write like an 18th centure novelist was cloying. Her use of stilted , early-20th century lingo ("old chap"?) was annoying. The novel takes place in the 1980s, so why use dialogue that sounds like it came straight out of "The Great Gatsby" (regardless of the desperate "Gatsby" allusions thoughout the book)?
The characters are not only under-developed, but preciously unbelievable. Do you know any college students who take baths instead of showers? And who wear suits and ties at all times? And who are constantly eating lamb chops? Please! And the Classics Professor Julian? I find it highly unbelievable that any college or university would tolerate his little "school within the school".
I'm not sure if I was supposed to be sympathetic or attracted to the main characters in this novel. I think Tartt was trying to create a group of "outsiders". I found the main characters to be repugnant. Their arrogance, hypocrisy, and sense of entitlement were very unappealing. Being rich and condescending does not make one an outsider, just hard to like.
Tartt seems to shy away from discussing seemingly important events in the book, like the twins' sexual relationships, the events and experiecnes at the bachanal, the relationship between Henry and Camille, or the murders. Then she provides over-dramatic, almost adolescent descriptions of banal events and emotions common to most college students. More than once, I found myself literally rolling my eyes while reading some of these passages.
Each time Tartt quotes texts in another language, she feels the need to translate the text for us.
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Most recent customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Good Writing. Short on Plot.
Donna Tartt is a wonderful writer. Her skills are exceptional. But the circuitous route that this book takes to hide and keep hidden a particular secret of the major characters,... Read more
Published 3 days ago by Linda Pfeiffer
5.0 out of 5 stars A very captivating story.
I can't wait for her next book. Enjoyed this book as much as Goldfinch. Her character descriptions are very vivid.
Published 12 days ago by Lena L.
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great !
Published 1 month ago by Karen Hart
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Love this book; fast delivery - thank you.
Published 1 month ago by Judith Grant
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
I like anything by Donna Tart. She has a fascinating mind
Published 1 month ago by Janine Poley
4.0 out of 5 stars I Know What You Did in College
Earlier this year I read The Goldfinch and was astounded. It was my first novel by the author and I was pleased it won the Pulitzer. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Jeffrey Swystun
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful book
I don't know how many times I thought that the book had reached its crescendo only to be shocked again. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Prexaspes
5.0 out of 5 stars Tartt is an 'acquired' taste. This was an early ...
Tartt is an 'acquired' taste. This was an early novel; after reading succeeding books, latecomer to this one...take your time, it's worth it.
Published 2 months ago by Gail Grant
1.0 out of 5 stars 51% will love it, the others (including me) should watch some
too "girly".... 51% will love it, the others (including me) should watch some baseball/football
Published 3 months ago by Bernard Thibault
5.0 out of 5 stars A Modern Classic
Absolutely riveting and impeccably written. Awaiting Donna Tartt's next masterpiece with great anticipation. Destined to be a classic of the genre.
Published 6 months ago by Paul Scotti
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