I read The Secret History about a million times while in college. So reading it again was a bit more like comfort than exploring anything new or looking to discover anything new.
And yet, there is something in a book you can re-read that many times. While in college, I was in love with the over the top aesthetic of this book. Now, it’s hard not to look at the characters and see tragedy written all over them. Henry, the scholar who has always been able to do what he wants; Charles and Camilla, twins who can’t live apart, not even when they need to; Francis, who needs to be allowed to be himself when he’s not at college; Bunny, fatuous and full of charm but irritating as hell; and Richard, who just wants to fit in.
I still love the aesthetic of it, the romanticism of a small college in a New England town, the fascination with beauty that is both the author’s and Richard’s, who also happens to be our narrator.
I can’t at all tell you what it would be like to approach this book, written pre-internet, as an adult almost 30 years later. All I can tell you is that I still love The Secret History, whether its because the book is great or because I loved it so much as a twenty-year-old. I will always recommend it.
I read The Secret History about a million times in college. To this day, I’m not sure why I was so obsessed with it.
When the weather turned, it seemed like a good time for a re-read. The characters were much the same: so obsessed with finding some ancient Greek definition of beauty that they’d lost all their morality. Donna Tartt’s description of the New England fall and winter were still lovely and haunting and they made me want to spend all my time at a small college in some tiny Eastern state.
What I wasn’t expecting though, was the parallels between Bunny, the tragi-comic character who drives much of the plot, and Donald Trump. They are both bumbling, in over their heads, cruel in a way that doesn’t realize its full consequences, utterly insistent that the world is the way he sees it, and charming (according to Maggie Haberman, Trump is captivating in a one-on-one setting in a way Obama never was). It made it kind of hard to read in spots, honestly.
That parallel made The Secret History surprisingly relevant – I got insight into our current president and the people around him in a way I was not expecting from a book published in 1992.
Recommended, and not just for nostalgia’s sake.
What’s it about?
I don’t even know. It’s about a boy, Theo who steals a painting and loses a mother; psychologically, he’s a mess. His father’s a professional gambler and he alternates between a nerd genius and the son of a Russian mobster for a best friend. Theo grows up. And then I put the book down, fully intending to come back to it. That was many, many months ago. I finally called it last week, looking at The Goldfinch yet again and yet again passing it over for a different story.
Why should you read it?
I have a lot of respect and admiration for Donna Tartt because I loved Secret History that much. You should read it if you feel the same way about one of her other books. But there’s a casual cruelty to some of the characters that I found off-putting, not to mention there’s at least one sub-plot that could be resolved if the characters would just talk to each other. At the end of the day, I didn’t care enough to finish it. You might like it better.