I sat down today with the intention of reviewing Donna Tartt’s The Secret History. This book has been around a while, so you might be wondering what took me so long to get it to it. Truthfully, I don’t know, and while I’m sad in a way that I didn’t read this book the moment it came out, I think last week was the perfect time in my life to read it.
The Secret History is, as the title of this post suggests, the best book I’ve read in five years. One of the best books I’ve read ever. I’m not sure I can accurately describe what this book did to me, but I’m going to try.
The Secret History tells the story of six young Greek scholars at a secluded Vermont university, where they form close and complicated bonds with their professor – and each other. Henry, Charles, Camilla, Francis, Richard and ‘Bunny’ are a peculiar and eclectic group, frighteningly intelligent and dangerously isolated from the rest of the world. Together they embark on a Bacchanalian experiment which quickly spirals out of control, with unthinkable repercussions.
I won’t ruin the story for you. But that’s not all I can say about this book.
The Secret History is a staggering work. It is beautifully written, brutally honest and controlled with unfathomable finesse. It is at once breathtaking and terrible. I feel it only fair to warn you: If you open this book, you will find yourself adrift on a sea of moral ambiguity. Tartt tells of the violent, the disturbed and perverse with such perfect delicacy that you can’t help being alarmed by how little it alarms you. Professor Morrow’s darlings all do despicable things. But they are characters so tenderly rendered that you cannot help hoping that they’ll get away with all of it – even murder.
How does that grab you?
It’s been a long time since a book had me so utterly at its mercy. Of course it isn’t perfect, but it is a book I will read over and over again in years to come. But I think I may read something a little more lighthearted before I pick up Tartt’s new novel, The Goldfinch. That’s not to say I’m not desperately curious about it.
If you’re at all intrigued, you can find The Secret History on Goodreads here.
And here’s one of my favorite lines, just to whet your appetite:
I slept all day, face down in the pillow, a comfortable dead-man’s float only remotely disturbed by a chill undertow of reality – talk, footsteps, slamming doors – which threaded fitfully through the dark, blood-warm waters of dream.