Friday, November 5, 2010

Premature Book Review: The Secret History (Donna Tartt, 1992)

I first heard of this book when talking about the film Jawbreaker with Yum-Yum at House of Self Indulgence. I mentioned how the movie had similarities to Daniel Handler's The Basic Eight (1998), to which Yum-Yum mentioned The Secret History.

This book is written from the point-of-view of Richard, a Californian college student who is dissatisfied with his life and his family's expectations. He shuts down, in a manner of speaking, and decides to attend a liberal arts college in Vermont, the opposite of what his parents want for him. Richard studied Ancient Greek for two years, and would like to continue, but finds this is a problem. The Ancient Greek professor at his new school hand picks students, and is very demanding; to the point of controlling. He expects control of his students' academic program, instructing the bulk of their courses himself. Prior to Richard joining the group of students, there are only five and they are notorious around campus for their strange behavior and occasional bouts with the cool kids.

The book is nicely written, and in a troubling fashion for me, quite like Handler. Tartt's and Handler's books, thus far, are not so very similar that you could blame handler for plagiarism... in fact it is not even the base style that is similar. Handler's book is written as a journal, but then a journal is just a first person narrative. It is, however, the tone that is similar. Both Tartt and Handler use a tension building technique of telling you what is going to happen. It is too heavy handed to be foreshadowing. They saw "X is going to happen" and then abandon it as though they never wrote it. The other similarity is in that we have overly intelligent classics students that commit a murder, in both cases of their weakest member. Perhaps murder lies in the mind of every English major? Garrison Keillor might agree.

For me, this is a rather long book, but if the style continues it should be quite enjoyable. It is not as comedic as Handler's story, but is cleverly written.


moviesandsongs365 said...

Just became a follower, so thought I'd leave my first comment.

I also had issues with the length, I read in an interview that the author wrote 1000 pages, but they altered the print size so it was "only" 500p.

The lack of guilt in the book is disturbing and interesting, they seemed more concerned with not getting caught. We don't get inside the heads of all of them(only the narrator), so it's tough to say what they all feel inside.

Still, it was a good read. Here's my review:


Darius Whiteplume said...

Hi, and welcome aboard :-)

The text is terribly small. I am about 2/3 through it now (I am a slow reader :-)

There is a lack of remorse that makes the group less appealing. I can almost understand the original students being ambivalent, but the narrator seems like he should be a bit more shocked by the whole thing. I'll have to see how it turns out :-D

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