So we all know that The Goldfinch has been on everyone’s must read list, but sometimes I like to read an author’s previous work before I try out their popular work. So I decided to give The Secret History a try. And, oh boy, what a debut.
The Secret History, by Donna Tartt is, most simply I think, the story of a murder and it’s effects on those that commit it. As a psychological study, it is absolutely fascinating. As a piece of literature, it is beautiful and near poetry in places. It’s not a murder mystery, we know from the beginning who was killed and who did the killing. We are only left to find out the how and the why. Here’s what I wrote on goodreads, mere seconds after reading the final sentence:
This novel is moody, gothic, surreal, heavy… Tartt [uses] language to create an atmosphere that is almost palpable in its thickness. I want to use words like oozing and dripping and coating…
Reading this book was like watching a carefully constructed veneer slowly begin to crumble, and then, with a maddening rush, disintegrate before your very eyes. There was very little to like about the characters that feature here – selfish, arrogant, cold, and in some cases clearly sociopathic. But there is much to love about the way Tartt slowly peels away their characters, hinting at a darkness from the beginning, and you read on in dread with an equal mixture of fascination and horror.
I can’t help but think that what makes this novel so engrossing is that the things we come to find out about these characters are also the things we are terrified of finding within ourselves.
It’s hard to say that I love a novel that is really about such a dreadful topic, without a single character to cheer for. Watching lives ruined is heartbreaking. And yet, I really loved reading this book. Perhaps that’s the best praise for Tartt: she created such an elegant world in which to study these characters, that it transcended their actions. As she says in the novel, “Beauty is harsh.” 9 mangoes.