I finally read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and my reading experience, on the whole, was rather mixed. I have captured my thoughts mid-way through and on completion of the book. I’d love to know if the things that didn’t work for me were aspects that got in the way for you too.
Here are my thoughts when I was a little more than halfway through The Secret History. It’s been an interesting experience, to say the least. Aspects that I’m really enjoying and certain others, not so much.
Starting with positives, I’m really enjoying the campus setting and atmosphere, of university and classes. Technically speaking, Tartt is a fantastic writer, and at a sentence level, I can really appreciate her craft and attention to detail. Richard Papen makes for an excellent narrator and watching the scenes unfold from his perspective is rather interesting as he holds a very unique position within the tight-knit group of Greek students. This book opens with Bunny’s murder and you know who’s done it from the start, so it’s really the question of ‘why’ that you’re uncovering the entirety of the novel.
However, there are things I’ve been in two minds about. I did struggle initially to care for any of these characters as they are an obnoxious lot and most of the circumstances they fall into are perils of their own making and stupidity. So at some degree there’s a level of detachment I feel to the story. I’ve warmed up to them a bit more, but still can’t say I really care. It started well till about the 70 page mark. Then it slowed down and was really boring for a while before it picked up again. So I can appreciate Tartt’s writing at a sentence level but not at the plot level, because it didn’t continually sustain my interest. The plot points felt really repetitive as well, they are always drinking (like every single page), and someone is always looking for someone, some of the dialogue is really tacky and maybe that’s because university students talk that way, but can’t say I enjoyed that.
And funnily enough, at the midpoint, there’s enough reason to understand why the murder has happened, so I’m really concerned with what Donna Tartt has to say for another 300 pages. So those are my thoughts so far and I will share a complete review when I finish.
Final thoughts on completing the book
My thoughts on completing the novel haven’t drastically changed from what I felt midway, rather, to some degree, it’s worsened a bit. The second half of the book focusses on the aftermath of the murder. The initial investigation scenes were very interesting and just when I was beginning to feel that this might turn out to better than I expected, it took a turn for the worse. The sections starting with the day before the funeral and the events in the Corcoran home were incredibly dull to get through. There was so much of unnecessary dialogue and scenes which I really felt weren’t adding anything to the story.
Following the funeral, you gradually see the decline of the lives of the remaining 5 and the ways they handle their grief and guilt. They try and portray a facade of normalcy while being plagued by visions and dreams and such. The drinking and drugs just get worse and it all feels pointless and the plot really didn’t seem like it was heading anywhere.
As the narration progressed, it started to annoy me further with the inclusion of some juvenile nonsense of who’s sleeping with who, problems arising from that, some more drunken drama, which I listened to at 1.5x speed to get through on audio. The close-knit group gradually fall apart and the ending which I guess was supposed to be impactful failed to hit the mark, and just felt really melodramatic. Julian’s character suddenly rises to prominence in some crucial scenes towards the end and while he’s certainly a fascinating character, I don’t think Tartt did much justice in fleshing him out.
While you get the impression that Bunny is this annoying, detestable character and possibly deserved his end, the other characters, in my opinion, weren’t all that different. To some degree, I felt they were all cold, egotistical, neurotic, with a complete lack of empathy, and needless to say, it was impossible to empathize with them on any level. Aside from, Richard Papen, the narrator, who seemed to be the most realistically fleshed out. While I can forgive unlikeable characters, I wasn’t completely invested in the plot either.
I know I sound more negative than positive, but I certainly enjoyed the general atmosphere of the book, the writing, some of the scenes were brilliantly captured. So on the whole, giving it a 3/5🌟 as the parts that were good were really good.