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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Book Review: Station Eleven, Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven: just another post-apocalyptic tale?

Yes, I thought the same thing before I began Station Eleven, but this one really is different.
A virus, named the Georgia flu, has spread throughout the planet, killing off 99.99% of the population. The novel follows the citizens that are left and their fight to live in what is left of the world, a world without air travel, paracetamol, or electricity.
Station Eleven begins on stage, a production of King Lear with an A-Lister, Arthur Leander, as Lear. He mysteriously drops dead mid-performance. The Shakespearean theme continues throughout as the book jumps to 20 years after the arrival of the flu.
The Travelling Symphony travels through settlements, performing Shakespearian plays such as Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and King Lear. They are made up of musicians and actors who perform to entertain the survivors, and perhaps to remind them of a past long gone. Their slogan? “Survival is insufficient”, a line taken from Star Trek.
Station Eleven has two main parallels, pre-flu and post-flu: the life of Arthur Leander up until the day he died, and Year Twenty, where the Travelling Symphony are roaming through America. In this way, Mandel can demonstrate the relationships between the characters from ‘before’ and ‘after’.

Book Hint: If you have the hardback edition, there’s a special surprise waiting on page 304, but don’t get over-excited and skip ahead!

A member of the Travelling Symphony, Kirsten, was on stage with Arthur when he died. She was 8, and she finds herself collecting newspaper clippings about him found in derelict houses though she doesn’t know why. Kirsten also owns a copy of a comic, Station Eleven. She doesn’t know who it belongs to, but that it was created by M.C.
Mandel also introduces us to Jeevan. As a journalist, he met Arthur through doing interviews with him. Jeevan has also photographed Arthur’s first wife, Miranda, though Arthur isn’t aware of this. Kirsten owns a paperweight that was once Miranda’s, though she doesn’t know this or how she came to own it. There’s also a man known as ‘The Prophet’ hunting towns and taking women as his wives. But who is he, and how exactly does he fit into the jigsaw that Mandel has created?

Will all of these lives eventually come together in an unorthodox way?

Through her novel, Mandel explores the meaning of what it means to be happy. She throws in reminders of the ‘old world’ through the glamour of paparazzi and glossy magazines. She explores the thoughts of characters who can’t imagine what air conditioning might feel like. It is a reminder to us of what we have, and how difficult it would be to live without it.
Kirsten discovers a house on her travels and thinks: “That’s what it would have been like, she realized, living in a house. You would leave and lock the door behind you, and all through the day you would carry a key.” What is normality for us in our world is complete madness to those that live in Year Twenty.
Mandel leaves us feeling, not in fear of the end of the world as we know it, but appreciative of everything we have in the present.

Overall rating: 4/5

You walk into a room and flip a switch and the room fills with light. You leave your garbage in bags on the curb, and a truck comes and transports it to some invisible place. When you’re in danger, you call for the police. Hot water pours from faucets. Lift a receiver or press a button on a telephone, and you can speak to anyone. All of the information in the world is on the Internet, and the Internet is all around you, drifting through the air like pollen on a summer breeze. There is money, slips of paper that can be traded for anything: houses, boats, perfect teeth. There are dentists.

4 Seriously Pretty Books: Fitzgerald Classics

These Fitzgerald classics were released on the 70th anniversary of his death, and they’re absolutely stunning.

I can’t help but buy pretty books when I see them, even if I’ve read that particular book 10 times, and have three copies of it. If it’s a different cover to one I’ve got, and it’s pretty, I’m buying it. And that’s exactly what happened with these 70th Anniversary F. Scott Fitzgerald classics.

Fitzgerald classics - Gatsby

photo courtesy of novelsandnailpolish.com

I mean, look how pretty and shiny they are.

Fitzgerald classics

The books aren’t cheap, at £14.99 per book. I didn’t buy the whole set (I think there’s six in total), but they’ll sit nicely on a shelf in my office so I an stare at them all day.

What are your favourite book covers?