Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

So before you think it, I know, I’m about twenty years late on The Secret History.

My dad came over the other day (who isn’t a big reader) and goes, Oh that’s a good book. If he’s read it, then I’m definitely behind.

The first Donna Tartt novel I read was a few months ago. It was The Little Friend, a book that I’d picked out because of the creepy looking doll on the cover, and the small font—I only read books with small font which is a big hindrance when choosing a book to read.

The Little Friend drew me in because of the cover and the blurb. But I’ve never been so disappointed when reading a book. It took me months, but I was so determined to finish it because I’d already invested so many hours of reading just to make it halfway. I stuck it out, but it went straight in the charity bag (and I rarely throw books out).

I’d heard many good things about The Secret History, so decided to give Tartt another chance. And I am so glad I did.

 

Brief Plot

The Secret History follows a group of six friends, narrated by Richard, who’s one of the six. The group have murdered one of their six, Bunny. This is revealed in the prologue, before the actual book has even started. It starts at the end, and then returns to the beginning, showing us how and why the group ended up killing one of their own. Will Yates, in his review on Oxford Student, claims the novel has been described as a ‘whydunnit’ as opposed to the traditional Poe-sian ‘whodunnit’.

The Secret History is a harrowing tale, and I won’t give away any spoilers. Each member of the group have their problems. Richard, the narrator, is poor and spends much of the book trying to convince the group otherwise.

The rest of the group, Henry, Francis, Camilla, Charles, and Bunny are from extremely privileged backgrounds. Most receive money every month from their parents. They’re all students, studying Classics at Hampden College by their elusive and bizarre professor, Julian. Tartt shows that although the rest are more privileged than Richard, they have as many problems as him. Charles is an alcoholic, Francis is a gay man who struggles to find reciprocated love, Henry is too proud.

And Bunny finds out a secret that he won’t let the others live down. So they decide to shut him up themselves. This is revealed at the beginning. The remainder of the book shows the run up to the murder, and also how they evade being found out by the police, their college and the FBI. It shows how guilt can hammer down on you, force you to do things that you wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Can the group pretend it never happened, or will one of them crack?

 

Analysis

The Secret History was a fabulous novel. At 630 pages it was a long one, but every page was needed. The characters were so deep and…real? Tartt truly captures the feeling that you’ve been let into a huge secret, that you mustn’t tell anyone else. You become the 7th member of the group, experiencing things as they do.

The Greek, Latin, Italian, and French elements that appear in the novel only seem to draw you into a different world that you didn’t know existed.

 

Buy your copy now, with £2 off – only £6.99!

 

Other books like this:

The Little Friend, Donna Tartt

 

Then She Was Gone, Lisa Jewell

 

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The Friday Review: Picture Perfect, Jodi Picoult

Picture Perfect, by Jodi Picoult, is this week’s focus in the Friday Review.

The Friday Review isn’t every Friday: who can read 52 books in one year apart from Blu Chicken Ninja? When I do finish a book, the review will now be published on Fridays. Partly as a routine for myself, partly so people know when to expect my book-related posts.

Blurb:

To the outside world, they seem to have it all. Cassie Barrett, a renowned anthropologist, and Alex Rivers, one of Hollywood’s hottest actors, met on the set of a motion picture in Africa. They shared childhood tales, toasted the future, and declared their love in a fairy-tale wedding. But when they return to California, something alters the picture of their perfect marriage. A frightening pattern is taking shape—a cycle of hurt, denial, and promises, thinly veiled by glamour. Torn between fear and something that resembles love, Cassie wrestles with questions she never dreamed she would face: How can she leave? Then again, how can she stay?

Picture Perfect was written back in 1996, when I was only 2 years old, so yes I’m a little late to the party because I wan’t reading Picoult back then.

My grandma works in a charity shop one day a week, and picks up books for me every now and then. This was one of her finds.

Plot Summary:

A woman is discovered, passed out in a graveyard. We don’t know who she is or how she came to be there, and neither does she. A head injury means she has lost all her recent memories, and is escorted to a police station by Will Flying Horse.

Will is a new recruit at the LAPD and is off shift when he finds “Jane”. Eventually “Jane”, who we discover is called Cassie, is reunited with her husband, the A-list actor, Alex Rivers.

She could never have imagined this life for herself. They own mansions in Bel Air and LA and a ranch in Colorado. They have servants, and cooks, and butlers. Cassie tries to fit back into this life of fame and fortune. She thinks she has married her dream man, but the cracks soon start to show as she regains her memory.

The novel jumps back to 3 years before. Cassie remembers and narrates 3 years of her marriage to Alex Rivers: when they met, where they met, and the story of their marriage. It isn’t a happy one, though the media believes it to be a true Cinderella story.

We also learn about Cassie’s past: her abusive father, her alcoholic mother, and the death of her best friend, Connor. All of these events affected her life and the choices she made, but how did she end up in that church graveyard?

Picoult takes Picture Perfect from America, to Tanzania, to a Native American tribe camp. Cassie is torn between the corrupt love for Alex Rivers, and her new-found love for her rescuer, Will Flying Horse.

Review:

Picoult is so clever in the way she manipulates her readers. She makes us feel hatred towards Alex Rivers, but then remorse and pity. She makes us glad when Cassie leaves him, but then glad when she returns. Picoult plays with us, and gives us what we think we want, when it turns out we didn’t want that at all.

I did enjoy Picture Perfect, but was it typical chick-lit? Yes, but then I knew that when I picked it up. The book made me want to shout at some of the characters for their decisions, but in the end, things all work out okay.

Without spoiling the plot, I did enjoy the ending. Picoult could have drawn it out longer, yet I’m glad that she didn’t.

And then there’s the plot, and the subplot, and the pre-subplot. Without being confusing, Picoult gets the perfect balance between all the elements of Cassie’s story. She gives us the present, when Cassie wakes up in the graveyard. Then she gives us flashbacks to Cassie’s horrific childhood. And then she gives us the flashbacks of Alex’s and Cassie’s history as a couple. All of these aspects are wonderfully woven together to create a full and flowing, yet heartbreaking tale.

You can buy a copy from Penguin Random House.