Title: The Secret History (the original title was ‘The God of Illusions’ – I think both titles fit the story well)
Author: Donna Tartt
Genre: Fiction, I can’t be any more specific than that
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 they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.
“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”
It’s not possible for me to describe this book accurately because the way it made me feel is so different from other books – I can’t find the right words for it. But I want to write something about it while it’s still so fresh in my mind.
“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”
I came across this book on quite a few of those ‘Books you should definitely read’ lists and it was always in the back of my mind, on my mental TBR, but I still kept putting it off even though I was sure I’ll enjoy it. It drew me in immediately when I started reading it – the beginning of the book contains a spoiler for what happens later and I wonder how would I feel about the characters and the story if I had no idea what to expect.
“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”
The characters are amazing and feel so real and (I know this is not a good idea considering some things they do) I wish I could meet them in real life. At the beginning, Bunny was my favorite. I would sometimes forget what happens later and than remember it again and think ‘how could it possibly come to that?’. The least interesting character is Richard, the narrator, but the only reason for that is that the story is written from his perspective and it makes the others seem so much more mysterious and fascinating.
“Any action, in the fullness of time, sinks to nothingness.”
Part of what makes the book so good is that feeling of mystery – I feel like I could reread it so many times and never fully understand it. I wish there were more details about the night of the bacchanal and about all of the characters, especially Charles and Camilla, but who knows if I would love the book as much as I do if I knew everything. It a very quotable book, too:
“It is a terrible thing to learn as a child that one is a being separate from all the world, that no one and no thing hurts along with one’s burned tongues and skinned knees, that one’s aches and pains are all one’s own. Even more terrible, as we grow older, to learn that no person, no matter how beloved, can ever truly understand us. Our own selves make us most unhappy, and that’s why we’re so anxious to lose them…”
I read it slowly, read the same lines over and over again – I love it when a book makes me do that, because I want to know everything that happens but I also want to read as slowly as I can to make it last. The Secret History is one of those books that I’ll read over and over again in my lifetime and that sets the standard higher for all others.