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This blog is now retired. My new site is at: Predictably Irrational.

Monday, November 15, 2010

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Thank you, me. I finally finished this tome. It really doesn't look so daunting - I've read many books with as many pages (this particular copy: 524), if not more. But the font is teeny-tiny and because of that, it can fit a lot of words on a single page.

I wasn't too sure about this one. The beginning was s-l-o-w. I learned more Greek than I ever cared to know. This isn't like Greek mythology. It is literal Greek, the language. Yes, there is Greek mythology, as well as Latin (the language) and other references to the "Classics" but it never was educational to me, more presumptuous.

It picked up at the halfway point and became pretty interesting to me. I couldn't wait to get to it and see what was going on. But after finishing it? I don't know what to make of it. Did I like it? I don't know yet. I can't stop thinking about it, revisiting the story time and time again in my head. However, I am quite relieved that I am done with it.

The Secret History is about a group of students at a small town college in Vermont. Richard is the 'voice' heard, recounting this story. The opener is about a friend who has been murdered, and the story then goes back in time, to when Richard first meets the group of students: twins Camilla and Charles, Henry, Francis, and Edmund, aka Bunny. All of the students come from some kind of wealth, except for Richard, although he covers his blue collar roots with lies of grandeur.

These group of students are studying Greek under the mysterious and eccentric professor, Julian. Julian seems to be too good to be true. His background has him connected with nearly every major figure in real life history, and he comes across as the most collected, genuine human being ever in the world. A real life Socrates, of sorts. At the end, however, Richard explains that this may have been his own lie, his own fantasy to make Julian out to be better than he was. Course, this comes at nearly page 515...and it wasn't like "surprise!" but more like "Bobby Ewing never died; it was just a dream".

There is *a lot* of describing everything: the actual studies of Greek; how much time is spent sleeping, drinking, walking to another office. It is just filled to the hilt with nonsensical "stuff". The meat of the novel is supposed to center on an 'accidental' murder that all but Bunny and Richard being involved in...then the eventual discovery by Bunny as to who was responsible. It doesn't come right out but implies that the 'who-did-its' are being blackmailed by Bunny. It is not clear if this is really true or just a naive thought from the group that Bunny would talk unless they lavished him with clothes, food, drink and expensive trips.

In fact, once the plan to murder Bunny starts being discussed, me, the reader, is wondering why they just stop paying for everything and having a sit-down with him to find out if he would really tell. The group, except for Richard, have been a tightly-knit group for some time. It seemed overly dramatic for the idea of murder to take place...but it's a novel...and I let reality go.

In the (looooong) end, Bunny indeed is murdered and the rest of the novel focuses on the breakdown of the group and what becomes of each of them. It isn't a happy ending. It isn't even actually sad, per se. This quote at the end, but the dreamy ghost of Henry sums up, in a way, how the book felt to me. Richard speaks to Henry (who is dead) in his dream:
"Are you happy here?" I said at last.
He considered this for a moment. "Not particularly," he said. "But you're not very happy where you are, either."

Despite all of this, it is well-written, IMO. I am amazed at her writing style. It would not prevent me from picking up another one of her novels. Her style is poetic and again, to my naive eye, "classic" in the sense of Jane Eyre. Beautiful words. Just way to many of them.

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