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The Secret History Paperback – 1993


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Paperback, 1993
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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0804111359
  • ISBN-13: 978-0804111355
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 10.8 x 17.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (462 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #411,218 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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

4.3 out of 5 stars

Most helpful customer reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By "debbysbooks" on Jan. 24 2003
Format: Paperback
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 By Michelle Presta on May 11 2005
Format: Paperback
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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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By E A Glaser on March 12 2003
Format: Paperback
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Jeffrey Swystun TOP 50 REVIEWER on Aug. 12 2014
Format: Paperback
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. So I decided to go back and give her first novel a try. The Secret History is dark and brooding in plot, dense and suffocating in atmosphere. The novel has been called a "whydoit" as it reveals the crime and criminals from the outset. That device and the characters representing modern archetypes makes the book highly engaging. I found the group of college students entirely menacing in their intellectual detachment and arrogant entitlement.

There is more than a bit of Leopold and Loeb throughout. Consider this exchange, “But how,” said Charles, who was close to tears, “how can you possibly justify cold-blooded murder?’ Henry lit a cigarette. “I prefer to think of it,” he had said, “as redistribution of matter.” Soon actions haunt all involved and their tell-tale hearts take many forms offering fascinating views of individual and group behaviour.

In 2013, John Mullan wrote "Ten reasons why we love Donna Tartt's The Secret History" in The Guardian. Mullan included in the list, "It starts with a murder", "It has all the best elements of the campus novel", and "It is obsessed with beauty." Indeed, there are many references to beauty, "Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it.” Tartt teaches us that beauty is most definitely in the eye of the beholder given what her characters find beautiful.

The book is thick with complex observations and challenging thoughts, "For if the modern mind is whimsical and discursive, the classical mind is narrow, unhesitating, relentless. It is not a quality of intelligence that one encounters frequently these days.
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