The Secret History
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The Secret History

4.1 169
by Donna Tartt
     
 

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Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, established herself as a major talent with The Secret History, which has become a contemporary classic.

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college

Overview

Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, established herself as a major talent with The Secret History, which has become a contemporary classic.

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Secret History succeeds magnificently. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously well-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” --The New York Times

“An accomplished psychological thriller. . . . Absolutely chilling. . . . Tartt has a stunning command of the lyrical.” --The Village Voice

“Beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish.” --Vogue

“A haunting, compelling, and brilliant piece of fiction. . . . Packed with literary allusion and told with a sophistication and texture that owes much more to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth.” --The Times (London)

“Her writing bewitches us. . . . The Secret History is a wonderfully beguiling book, a journey backward to the fierce and heady friendships of our school days, when all of us believed in our power to conjure up divinity and to be forgiven any sin.” --The Philadephia Inquirer

“Enthralling. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously wll-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” --The New York Times Book Review

“A huge, mesmerizing, galloping read, pleasurably devoured. . . . .Gorgeously written, relentlessly erudite.” –Vanity Fair

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
. Entertaining, evocative first novel; 12 weeks on PW 's bestseller list. (Oct.)
Library Journal
This well-written first novel attempts to be several things: a psychological suspense thriller, a satire of collegiate mores and popular culture, and a philosophical bildungsroman. Supposedly brilliant students at a posh Vermont school (Bennington in thin disguise) are involved in two murders, one supposedly accidental and one deliberate. The book's many allusions, both literary and classical (the students are all classics majors studying with a professor described as both a genius and a deity) fail to provide the deeper resonance of such works as Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose . Ultimately, it works best as a psychological thriller. Expect prepublication hype to generate interest in this book and buy accordingly. Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 5/1/92.-- Charles Michaud, Turner Free Lib., Randolph, Mass.
New York Times
“Powerful . . . Enthralling . . . A ferociously well-paced entertainment.”

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400031702
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
04/13/2004
Series:
Vintage Contemporaries Series
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
576
Sales rank:
10,843
Product dimensions:
5.15(w) x 7.93(h) x 0.94(d)

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What People are saying about this

From the Publisher
The Secret History succeeds magnificently. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously well-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” —The New York Times

“An accomplished psychological thriller. . . . Absolutely chilling. . . . Tartt has a stunning command of the lyrical.” —The Village Voice

“Beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish.” —Vogue

“A haunting, compelling, and brilliant piece of fiction. . . . Packed with literary allusion and told with a sophistication and texture that owes much more to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth.” —The Times (London)

“Her writing bewitches us. . . . The Secret History is a wonderfully beguiling book, a journey backward to the fierce and heady friendships of our school days, when all of us believed in our power to conjure up divinity and to be forgiven any sin.” —The Philadephia Inquirer

“Enthralling. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously wll-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” —The New York Times Book Review

“A huge, mesmerizing, galloping read, pleasurably devoured. . . . .Gorgeously written, relentlessly erudite.” –Vanity Fair

Meet the Author

Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent Novel. The Goldfinch Her novelsl The Secret History and The Little Friend were also international bestsellers. She was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, and is a graduate of Bennington College.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
December 23, 1963
Place of Birth:
Greenwood, Mississippi
Education:
Attended University of Mississippi; B.A., Bennington College, 1986

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The Secret History 4.1 out of 5 based on 1 ratings. 171 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
What makes 'The Secret History' such a compelling book is its daring to examine the consequences of the arrogance of intellectual superiority, something I struggled with in my youth, something which I sometimes find myself struggling with today. Those of us who were products of accelerated academic programs, who fell under the auspicious acronmym AP (for Advanced Placement) often felt removed from our peers and masked our underlying feelings of inferiority as erudite superiority. It is a defence mechanism many of us used when young,and sometimes continue to use as a means we tell ourselves of making us feel better about who we are. The students in TSH, even the sympathetic narrator Richard Papen, exemplify these ideas and the impulses these feelings cause them to act out are shown as having the direst of moral consequences to which they as a group and individually must answer for. The pleasures of intellectual stimulation coupled with the psychological underpinings of the deed done and how it is played out give TSH its literary resonance. In addition the book provides a builti in mystery of its own--namely the literary future, or if there is to be one, of its author, Donna Tartt. Upon a first reading nearly ten years ago, I embraced TSH and Donna Tartt as a voice I wanted to hear more of--a voice which has been noticeably and mysteriously silent, which has only served to build up the legend, and rumors of an impending second novel sometime next year. This remains to be seen but TSH continues to remain a book I turn to time and again for its exploration of moral arrogance and the destruction such attitudes can incur.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read it 3 years ago and im back looking it up hoping to find some clues to another, similar book. I have found some people seem to not like it and that baffles me. Great mystery, suspense. I was genuinely sad it was finished when it was over.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A really tense mystery; well-defined characters. You want to reach out and implore them to stop. Intelligence and narcissism and exclusivity and wealth and bored youth are a dangerous mix.
capiam1234 More than 1 year ago
Sex, Murder, and Mystery, rich spoiled college kids take life for granted and ends up screwing it all up. Everyone has had that loathing at some point when you just wish that reality will slap someone in the face that really deserved it. Well here's your chance! Donna Tartt shows us the lives of Henry, Francis, Richard, Charles, Camilla, and Bunny and with such finesse describes the life in a Vermont college for these spoiled snobs. But wait...the characters tend to come to life thanks to Tartt's writing and we really hope that things work out for them in the end, but part of us just wants to drop an anvil on their heads! The descriptions that Tartt provides are incredible to say the least and the period of winter helplessness that Richard experiences chills you to the bone. "This was, I should say, about the third week in January. The thermometer was droping; my life, which before had been only solitary and miserable, became unbearable. Every day, in a daze, I walked to and from work, sometimes during weather that was ten or twenty below, sometimes during storms so heavy that all I could see was white, and the only way I made it home at all was by keeping close to the guard rail on the side if the road. Once home, I wrapped myself in my dirty blankets and fell on the floor like a dead man. All my moments were not consumed with efforts to escape the cold were absorbed with morbid Poe-like fancies. One night, in a dream, I saw my own corpse, hair stiff with ice and eyes wide open." I actually had to dress warmer while reading his experience in a cold dark apartment. Throughout the book you know Richard will witness some shocking discovery of what is really happening, and thanks to Tartt again this isn't just dropped on us suddenly. She rather slowly reveals each secret such subtleness that it builds to the climax in a way that you feel for these characters even though they are such selfish snobs. This is one of my favorite reads this year and will reside on my shelf for years to come.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Secret History is an enigmatic blend of psychological thrills, an astoundingly complex, but realistic plot, and a rich vocabulary not often found in this day and age, wrapped in the wonder of Greek poetry and language. Upon my arrival of Julian's study room, I was instantly transported into a world shrouded in mystery. One characterized by dimly-lit lamps and persian rugs. By whispered betrayals behind callous-free hands and the eloquent discussions of one well-versed in the philosophies of the ancient world. Reading Tartt's work of literature was a quite enjoyable experience as she merged a world long gone with the one presently existing. She showed us beauty by kissing death. Showed us horror through fascination. She took all the elements of loathing, passion, revenge, morality, enlightenment, and unthinkable acts and mixed them around and around until you can no longer discern one from the other. Until you see that beauty and terror are one and the same. Not only does Tartt expertley portray this, but she does so with her uncanny ability to bring her characters to life, so that they might walk off the page at any given moment. If I was to summarize the plot right at this very moment, you would wonder at the sanity of the characters. However, should you read this literature in its entirety, you should find yourself just as confused and scared as the murderers themselves. I should like to reiterate one last time the beauty of the language used. I feel that much of our language today has been greatly reduced and watered down from, say, Shakespeare's age. A time when the crafting of words was regarded as an art form. With this novel, I believe Tartt was able to recapture some of that beauty that so many of our more recent novels have been missing. I truly loved this novel and find it completley worthy of the accolades it has recieved. This is not a light read, but if you're willing to endure a few late nights and a few hours lost sleep, I promise this is a book you won't want to put down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
THE SECRET HISTORY is that rarity published in recent years, a mainstream novel that deals with murder but not the usual ho-hum mystery formula. I was drawn into Richard Papen's slide into the small clique of classics students majoring in Greek, improbably taking no other courses but French in a small Vermont private college. Never fitting in other settings, Richard seems a perfect fit here, though his blue-collar background contrasts to the wealthy background of the other five. The coin is fluency in Greek, and the group considers themselves set apart by their intellectual superiority. Though one member is far from an intellectual, and his position becomes increasingly precarious after a mysterious killing of a local farmer prods him to blackmail and snipe at the others he is sure killed the man. Richard is the observer, who becomes an accessory to murder, under the spell of the group's leader, who is determined to conceal their crimes at all costs. Mesmerized by the leader's rationalization that the first killing was an accident--or was it?-- Richard goes along with the plan for a second murder, drifting with the others from the first in a haze of constant heavy drinking combined with drugs taken as a matter of course. While college students --at least some of them--certainly did drugs in the Eighties and probably still do, every character major or minor in the book is stoned and recklessly drunk on top of that. No one dies of this, a miracle; and such bright students in the Greek major seem to be drunk or on their way much of the time--not terribly intellectual, though bright people often drink to excess at times. Not even Richard can work up actual horror at news of the first killing, or resistance to the plan to cover up by killing the second victim, chiefly because said victim's needling gets more and more annoying. Yet this reader, usually repelled by conscienceless characters, was unable to put the book down, wanting to know if they will get away with it, wanting to know what Richard--who hasn't actually committed either murder--will do in the end or if he will end up in prison for his complicity in abetting and concealing the crimes. The alarmingly plausible leader's essential evil is slowly and skillfully revealed by the author, who turned out a literate and vivid work of prose in THE SECRET HISTORY. The end had one small flaw, hard to understand the leader's action in the climax. It didn't seem in character. But the book was haunting and involving, and I'll look for more of Donna Tartt's work.
BrianTX 21 days ago
I first heard about this book from an article written by J.K. Rowling in The University of Exeter’s magazine Pegasus in which she described The Secret History as “an undeniable page-turner.” I now find myself inclined to agree with her. Sometimes later I read a free sample on my Nook and wasn’t very impressed – the university setting in which the story takes place seemed really unbelievable and kind of cheesy. After a recommendation from friend, however, I continued to read the whole thing and found that it was one of the most entertaining books I had ever read. It’s no masterwork of literature, but it’s definitely worth the read. It’s exciting; the characters are so well crafted that it’ll be very hard for any reader not to get attached to them. I purchased the Nook book and it was formatted very nicely without any problems.
cloggiedownunder 10 months ago
“…people never seemed to notice at first how big Henry was. Maybe it was because of his clothes, which were like one of those lame but curiously impenetrable disguises from a comic book (why does no one ever see that ‘bookish’ Clark Kent, without his glasses, is Superman?). Or maybe it was a question of his making people see. He had the far more remarkable talent of making himself invisible – in a room, in a car, a virtual ability to dematerialise at will – and perhaps this gift was only the converse of that one: the sudden concentration of his wandering molecules rendering his shadowy form solid, all at once, a metamorphosis startling the viewer.” The Secret History is the first novel by American author, Donna Tartt. At the age of nineteen, Richard Papen goes to Hampden College in Vermont, primarily to get away from his parents and his depressingly boring hometown of Plano, CA. Having done two years of study in Ancient Greek, he jumps at the opportunity to join an exclusive class of five students studying The Classics under the very selective Julian Morrow. Richard is somewhat dazzled by his fellow students: Henry Winter, dark-suited, stiff, aloof and extremely intelligent; Francis Abernathy, angular and elegant; the beautiful twins, Charles and Camilla Macaulay, and Bunny Corcoran, loud and cheery. Never does he dream that within a few months, one of their number will be dead. At the centre of this book, both figuratively and literally, is a murder. The narrative is split into two: what led up to the murder, and the aftermath. The story is told by Richard some nine years after he went to Vermont. Tartt advances her story at a slow and careful pace; her characters, flawed and not necessarily appealing, develop as Richard gets to know them; her descriptive prose expertly evokes the atmosphere of the New England college. So naturally do events lead into one another that the reader occasionally needs to step back and think: this is murder they are so matter-of-factly discussing. Black humour relieves the tension: the twins, upbraided for their failure to plan a meal, retort “Well, if you wake up intending to murder someone at two o’clock, you hardly think what you’re going to feed the corpse for dinner”. As well as giving the reader plenty to think about (the value of life, self-preservation, friendship any loyalty), there is a plot with a few interesting turns and a quite unexpected climax. Tartt combines the story-telling talent of Stephen King with prose worthy of Wallace Stegner: the result is a compelling read that will stay with the reader long after the last page is turned.
RedNib More than 1 year ago
Few months ago I have come across a book by the same author titled "The Goldfinch". I couldn't put it down and was left with a thirst to experience that kind of immersion once more. I researched the author and out of the two remaining books decided to read this one. My thirst was certainly quenched. I couldn't put the book down; I tried to slow down and absorb the beautiful language and vivid descriptions but the plot kept on sweeping me away. The characters, their unexpected development, naked honesty of the central character, the path the story weaved through my mind-all were unforgettable. I am still mulling over the thoughts this book provoked, the emotions it aroused in me, the ideas about human nature I was forced to explore. All the while the book was set in such a bucolic scene that I longed for the quite unhurried world of literary academia; wished for the kind of inspirational stimulus that the teacher/mentor provided these characters. Only to discover in the end that how we see people and our interactions with them and each other is simply a hall of mirrors with reflections seen influenced by what we want and not want to see; and not at all by the true nature of whatever is standing in front of that mirror. This would be a great book to explore at the book club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
500 pages of mixed up writing and characters that I could not connect with and didn't care about. Don't listen to good reviews. Worst book I ever read. Writing is just awful!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because "The Finch" was so very good. The "Secret History" goes no where. I read 150 pages and the characters were dull and the story went nowhere. A waste of time and money. I can't even force myself to spend anymore time on it. A total waste.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A work that is the slowest moving piece of literature, that I have slogged through. Others may relish the relish the overly descriptive passages, but I found that it covered up the poor plot development. The author created a confused sense of time and place. Quite frankly, it is a disgusting story about disgusting people. About 75 pages into this drivel, I wished every character ceased to exist.
Aiea More than 1 year ago
Slow going, almost gave up on it. Read it because of a review of the sequel that interested me but now not sure about trying to read that.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Another--and her first--thrilling story you cannot put down! And yes, a lot of ingredients are similar: an immature young man with incompetent parents, interesting bad friends, a distinguished older mentor, lots of drugs, love, betrayal, suspense, tragedy, unthinkable actions...
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I resented spending time with these insufferable self absorbed miscreants
emily_reads More than 1 year ago
This complex novel is slow-moving at times, but it is very rewarding. If you like this book, check out Carol Goodman's Lake of Dead Languages. Follow me on twitter!
Anonymous 11 months ago
The characters were stiff, boring, 2-dimensional, clueless, and stupid with no depth or emotion. The plot was unbelieveable and poorly executed. The first 80 pages are relentlessly boring, then it gets worse. I had to force myself to finish. I love reading and am angry at this author for churning out this bilge.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I do not often write reviews but I felt compelled to do so on this book. I will miss this book it became my companion my friend. I loved all the characters which you will too . A story which was so original yet we could have played a part. I look forward to more from this author . .
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Atthebeach More than 1 year ago
Like with The Goldfinch, I couldn't stop reading and didn't want it to end. Not the most likable characters, but so well explained that I totally understood them and their thinking about the wrong things they did. The bad deeds are revealed very early in the book, but still I wanted to understand how these young people did what they did and what it would do to their relationships and lives after. I found myself 'watching' them as her writing was so vivid I could view the action. The students' intellectual superiority and sense of moral privilege was made understandable in her development of these characters...as terrible as their acts were. This was a very good literary read raising all kinds of moral questions and answering them with history, classical literature, and philosophical thought. The characters and the story were fascinating.
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anonymousKC More than 1 year ago
Not as good as The Goldfinch.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago