Murder, Mystery and Growing Up

The Secret History

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.

This book was recommended to me as a book for someone of my age – much in the same way some English teachers will throw Catcher in the Rye to a surly teen dealing with all kinds of ‘angst’. But as someone desperate to cling onto their early but quickly surpassing their mid twenties I thought, why not? The struggle to find a place in the world is becoming more and more commonplace amongst my friendship group and a book that has the promise to help is, quite frankly, worth a delve into!

The Secret History follows a lost boy Richard who arrives at Hampden College without friends or direction, in search of a passion and a purpose. Upon finding himself enrolled in an elitist Classic course taught by a charismatic but pretentious professor, he becomes distanced from the main student body and caught up in the snobbish and eccentric lives of his five fellow classmates. When a Bacchanalian experiment causes bloodshed and secrets, Richard finds himself questioning his friendships, choices and even his own morality.

From the opening pages of Tartt’s novel, it is obvious as to why it is considered a modern classic. The narrative has an otherworldliness that invokes a feeling of being completely suspended in time. It is an inverted detective novel, a whydunit rather than a whodunit, which could be set in any college or university at any time. The universality to Tartt’s writing therefore creates an almost dreamlike world to explore as Richard, the outsider, is slowly let into the inner circle and becomes party to all secrets within their bubble. As in a Greek play, each character is wearing a mask that only begins to slip as we learn their mysteries and motivations.

The pace of the novel is therefore slower than your typical thriller. As seen in the first line, you know the crime from the word go it just takes time to understand why it was committed and the consequence of it. Personally, I loved this unveiling because it felt like Tartt was constantly one step ahead of you – she reveals only as much as she wants to, tempting you with titbits right until the end!

The huge depth of content and concerns within The Secret History make for a very rich read. The character’s obsession with beauty and knowledge is dangerously electric and their journey becomes darker the further they delve. As someone who grew up reading classical tales and studying Greek plays, the application of classics within the narrative was also really enjoyable.

I’m not entirely convinced that I found a book to help me find my place in the world but I definitely read a book worth escaping into!

4 star

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