Donna Tartt has been on my radar for quite awhile, and I finally picked up The Secret History at the recommendation of multiple coworkers. To be honest, I finished this novel over a week ago, and I am still unsure how I feel. I was unimpressed with much of the book, but something about it is still stuck in the back of my brain. The entire book is a psychological analysis of the six main characters before and after murdering their friend. Tartt opens the book with a prologue describing Bunny’s murder from the point of view of Richard, the narrator. The rest of the novel is then split up into two parts: before and after Bunny’s death. The first portion details Richard’s settling into the school and how he works his way into the Greek studies clique. Then, the second section describes the ripple effects of Bunny’s murder on his friends, the school, and surrounding town.
The book focuses on a mysterious group of Greek students, hand-picked by Julian Morrow, their professor. An enigmatic character, Julian is adored by his students, insists on holding class in his lavishly decorated office, and is rumored to be known in social circles around the world. The students- Henry, Bunny, Francis, Camilla and Charles- often come off as elitist to the reader, seen in the way they interact with others in the community. I learned more about each character throughout the duration of the book, but their actions and attitudes never seem to improve. As a reader, I felt like I was still on the cusp of getting to know them but just never quite got there.
Furthermore, Richard does not have a personality of his own, but instead has a persona created by those around him- a deliberate, though rather irritating choice by the author. On some level, I understand Richard’s infatuation, since he was a new student trying to figure out how to be accepted in this new place. However, after some time with the group, I would have found it more realistic for Richard to begin having opinions about their disturbing actions.
Despite being irritated and uncomfortable with the main characters, I kept reading because I wanted to know the motives behind Bunny’s death. After that was revealed, I persevered because I was expecting some wild change in the morals of Richard or the other characters. Unfortunately, the ending left me troubled, and deep in thought about the state of humanity. I would not be comfortable saying I outright enjoyed The Secret History, but I do understand why some people might find the story captivating. The psychology behind the characters’ actions is compelling, and certainly something I could see happening in real life. This novel does not allow for a happily ever after ending, but rather forces the reader to question the realities of human existence and how far we would go to protect ourselves.