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The Secret History [Paperback]

Donna Tartt
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (447 customer reviews)

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First Sentence
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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7 of 7 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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4 of 4 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
3.0 out of 5 stars Over-hyped Dec 28 2002
To be honest, I don't really understand why this novel spawned such fanaticism and rock-star-esque heroine-worship for Donna Tartt. Sure, it's a gripping page-turner, and Donna Tartt writes crisp, occasionally beautiful prose, but I'm still not sure this quite deserves the classic status it seems to have been afforded. For a start, the plot seems a little telemovie for me -it plays right into popular cultural fantasies of evil, glamorous rich kids and their coke-snorting, amoral ways, mixed up with equally potent popular fantasies of arcane learning having a sinister heart (basically, a popular suspicion of the rich and over-educated.) I didn't really believe in any of the characters, although I was fairly happy to permit their larger-than-life, unreal existence within the context of an enjoyable, slightly trashy and extremely well-executed thriller. I'm still a bit confused as to why so many people claim this book changed their lives...It entertained me for a few late nights, but it's hardly great literature. Tartt's second novel, which I'm reading at the moment, seems to merit such high acclaim much more than this one does.
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Most recent customer reviews
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 2 days ago by Paul Scotti
5.0 out of 5 stars EERIE AND INTERESTING.
What I loved most about this novel is the way it was written. The story is bizarre but interesting. A real study in the human psyche and morality, and lack there of. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Elle Morgan
5.0 out of 5 stars Absolutely thrilling!
I am a newly acquired huge fan of Donna Tartts writing style and the genre of books she writes the books are masterfully written and complete page turners be warned once you begin... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Eric Dumouchel
5.0 out of 5 stars I agree that it is over-hyped
I agree with reviewer "me-jane" that this novel is over hyped even though it is a pager turner and an avid reader would find it difficult letting this book down. Read more
Published 3 months ago by Bassim Zantout
2.0 out of 5 stars Over my head!
I bought this book after seeing it reviewed in the magazine REAL SIMPLE, as I had great luck with the other books on their list. However, I cannot get into this book. Read more
Published on March 2 2009 by J. Cochrane
5.0 out of 5 stars My Personal Favorite
I actually found this novel laying on the side of the road at summer camp about seven years ago and started reading it on a whim. Read more
Published on July 9 2004 by Peri Whitney
5.0 out of 5 stars A Real Page-Turner
This book kept me on the edge of my seat. It was amazing how Tartt could reveal the turning point before the story began and still keep my interest because I wanted to find out... Read more
Published on July 8 2004
3.0 out of 5 stars Still Not Finished... Groan!
Now maybe this book isn't geared for light bedtime readers who can only get through 10 pages a night, because I am barely half way through after many nights of reading. Read more
Published on July 8 2004 by Alane M. Downes
2.0 out of 5 stars Didn't Live Up To The Hype
I picked up this book with great expectations after all the glowing reviews and personal recs from many of my friends. Read more
Published on June 29 2004 by P. Scibielski
5.0 out of 5 stars Ker-WOW!
I loved it! I like suspense, mystery and intellectualism. But this book is so well done I'd recommend it to about anyone. Read more
Published on June 26 2004
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