Around two years ago when I was a new student in the United States, the International Students program hooked us up with American families. The Browns and I were introduced because of our similar interests in reading and books. A few meetings later, the Brown family asked me whether I would like to take some of their books, of which they had extra copies, while they were cleaning out their library. Of course, I jumped to the offer. A week later I was a few dozen books richer. I adored the new books, most of them hard bound. But I had very little time to read or even look at them. The following year, a group of us working at the Writing Studio at the department were discussing books set at a University. Someone suggested a book called The Secret History. I had never heard about the book, but it sounded vaguely familiar. That evening, I rummaged through my books and was pleasantly surprised to find the book nestled between others. I didn’t read it then, and wondered if I ever would, because it seemed dense and rather long.
Lack of reading material pushed me to pick this book up and I was quite surprised that it pulled me in. The Secret History is Donna Tartt’s first novel and a bestseller. This is quite strange taking into consideration the unusual story and structure of the book. In this first few pages itself, the narrator, Richard Papen, tells us that he and his friends have just killed their friend Bunny. The story then goes back in time and chronologically reveals the events that lead to the murder and so forth. But the suspense does not end there. Richard’s life at the new university and his amalgamation into a special group of students studying Greek is very interesting, especially for someone who has had a taste of university life. All the characters in Richard’s story are uniquely weird – he tells us a lot about them, but they are mysterious with secrets of their own. The twins Camilla and Charles, the distant yet friendly Francis, the elusive and magnetic Henry Winter, the oddly normal and uncharismatic Bunny and Richard. The six of them form an unlikely group – studying under the aegis of the parental Julian Morrow.
The plot is linear, with several allusions that literary lovers might (or might not) recognize. The story is simple enough yet and has details that can be scratched off the surface if needed. Until the very end, the author keeps the plot moving, giving the characters and reader no rest. The story affects your mind, forcing you to see beyond reality and fiction, to analyze the affect of life and taking it away. Tartt’s characters are young, but they are strong and mature beyond their years. Richard Papen makes an agreeable protagonist, trying to find his way in a new world.
The Secret History is jarringly new in its creation of an old world in a modern country. The six students are just as human as the next person, but their love for Greek makes them a little extra-ordinary. Anyone who loves what they do will identify with these characters. The book makes for a very interesting read, especially to anyone who has come close to academia.