Book Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

by Liz Keating '24 on March 5, 2023
A&E Staff

Arts & Entertainment

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History (1992) is a gripping novel that explores the lives of a group of elite college students who become entangled in a web of secrets, deception, and murder.

The story is narrated by Richard Papen, a young man from a humble background who is fascinated by the idea of studying at Hampden College, an elite liberal arts school in Vermont. He is accepted into an exclusive group of students who are studying under the enigmatic classics professor, Julian Morrow. As Richard becomes more immersed in the world of his new friends, he discovers that they are all hiding dark secrets and are involved in a dangerous and sinister plot.

The characters in The Secret History are well-drawn and complex, each with their own distinct personalities, quirks, and motivations. Richard, the narrator, is a curious and intelligent young man who is drawn to the glamorous lifestyle of his new friends. He becomes increasingly involved in their activities, even as he begins to suspect that something is not quite right.

The other members of the group are also fascinating in their own right. Henry, the charismatic leader of the group, is brilliant but manipulative, and his actions ultimately lead to the group’s downfall. Francis, the effeminate and neurotic member of the group, is also compelling, as is his relationship with the dark and brooding Charles. Finally, there is Camilla, the beautiful and mysterious woman who becomes the object of desire for all of the male members of the group.

Tartt’s prose is elegant and sophisticated, and she does an excellent job of immersing the reader in the world of the book. The descriptions of the college campus, the surrounding countryside, and the various characters are all vivid and detailed, making it easy for the reader to become fully immersed in the story.

The plot of The Secret History is dark and complex, and Tartt does an excellent job of building tension and suspense throughout the book. The story is not told in a linear fashion, with the events of the novel unfolding gradually and out of order. This creates a sense of disorientation and unease that keeps the reader engaged and on edge.

Overall, The Secret History is a brilliantly written novel that explores themes of guilt, identity, and the dark side of human nature. The characters are complex and compelling, the language is elegant and sophisticated, and the plot is suspenseful and engaging. It is a must-read for fans of literary fiction and psychological thrillers.