“Their reality was far more interesting than any idealised version could possibly be”
I’m finding it incredibly hard to articulate the way this book made me feel. I know that some of my opinions on the book are ones that many will not agree with, nevertheless I will stick to my guns and give this book 4.5 stars (which I have decided to round up to 5 stars)
The aesthetic of the book, with the horribly pretentious characters and academic background is what initially drew me to this book and it then became the aspect that made me fall in love with the story. Though I can see why some hated the novel on the basis of the unrelatable and frankly morally awful characters, it was this that really interested me about the book. I absolutely loved the pretentious and sometimes even absurd nature of the actions of the characters, and felt no loss in the fact that I could not relate to them (and it is on this topic that I must say I’d be quite worried about anyone that said they could relate to these characters).
I felt that Richard was a very interesting narrator, and while I found Henry’s pretentiousness quite comical at times I was keenly interested in his character until the very end. However, if I had to pick a favourite character it would probably be Francis, as it was his character that consistently held my attention, especially in the second half of the novel as he attempts to come to terms with what they have done. Furthermore, the addition of Judy Poovey is another aspect that I really enjoyed despite seeming to be one that is little talked about in reviews. I found that some of her scenes added a sense of much needed comic relief, even if this was not intentional. It is also important to note that Charles and Camilla also interested me, but my interest in them lay more with Richard’s hopeless idealisation of them and his consequent realisation that they (or Charles at least) could not live up to this unattainable standard he had set for them (which, to a certain degree, is true for all the characters he comes across).
Another aspect of The Secret History that I particularly enjoyed was the way the book was split into two parts, with the first being heavily focused upon why they killed Bunny, and the second being heavily focused upon the effects that this act has had upon the central characters. At first I found it odd that the climax of the novel should be in the middle, and couldn’t imagine what Tartt could possibly have to say for 300 more pages. However, upon reading it this part of the novel actually became my favourite. It was here that Tartt allowed her characters (Richard in particular) realise the gravity of their situation and the magnitude of what they had done, with this causing them to act in increasingly questionable ways until the climactic end. I personally loved the way Tartt chose to end this book as it was here that the tension masterfully came to a front. However, if I’m to be critical here, I found that although the epilogue was clearly necessary, I couldn’t help but feel that perhaps it fell a little flat in comparison to the rest of the book.
The only other issue I had with this book was coming to grips with when it was actually set. Though I absolutely loved the novel and the aesthetic of it all, I found it increasingly hard to believe that these events were happening in the early 90s, and couldn’t help but imagine it taking place much earlier. However, despite this issue, I’m still willing to give this book 4.5 stars and call it one of my absolute favourites!
Overall, I thought that this was a thrilling book and will certainly not hesitate to pick up another of Donna Tartt’s novels!