The Secret History Review

Hello everyone! This review may get rather flowery in terms of prose, so apologies in advance if that isn’t your style, my review next week will be of The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead, which won’t be as ridiculous! You can always check out my shorter review on YouTube.

Donna Tartt’s The Secret History, published in 1992, has rightly earned its status as a modern classic. A rich, tightly woven neo-romantic tale of Bacchanalian passion and academic obscurity, it’s detailed plot descends into the raw nature of man when veils are removed. I gave it 4 stars – I truly enjoyed this book and will certainly be reading it again in the future.


  • Richard Papen – The protagonist and eyes through which we experience the story. Having given up on studying medicine in California, he begins to attend Hampton College in Vermont, and is eventually accepted into the highly prestigious and mysterious Classics course. Thrown completely out of his depth, he struggles to make sense of the giant forces at play around him.
  • Charles and Camilla Macauley – Fraternal twins on the Classics course. Kind yet beautiful orphans, they are nearly inseparable, and sometimes bring a sense of foreboding particular to twins.
  • Francis Abernathy – Another student on the Classics course. At times nervous, and at others sure of himself, he begins to crack under the pressure around him in true dramatic fashion.
  • Henry Winter – The star of the Classics course. A brilliant mind with a calm and even temper, he reads an astounding array of languages and always seems to be one step ahead of everything else.
  • Bunny Corcoran – The final Classics member. Snobbish, boorish, and accustomed to a rich lifestyle but without the means to support it, he leeches off his friends and tests their patience regularly.
  • Julian Morrow – The Classics tutor. An old-fashioned and personable to his select group, he prefers to view the world as beautiful above everything else. Think Professor Slughorn with a keen interest in Homer.


Brief Plot Overview:

  • Within the first few pages, it becomes clear that Bunny has been killed by the others, seemingly by him falling off a cliff. The story builds up to this central point, with the reasons for the act, and then deals with the aftermath and everything begins to unravel.
  • Richard gets onto the mysterious and elitist Classics course, and gets involved with their clique of academia, privilege, beauty, and by turns mystique and raw humanity.


Enjoyable Elements:

  • The writing is absolutely beautiful. There aren’t huge passages describing the scenery, yet Tartt still manages to paint the landscape so beautifully, that I felt I could have been standing there with them.
  • There are a lot of nerdy references to Classics and Greek/Latin. These will be particularly exciting to any scholars, and the descriptions of Classics as an academic subject are accurate and knowledgeable.
  • The structure gives nothing away, and I felt that I had been left in a constant sense of anticipation and mystery. No clues or cliches were left within the mix, and the writing at times became genuinely surprising, especially concerning the ending!


Less Enjoyable Elements:

  • Although I did not purposefully feel like this, I am aware that some people find the book to be elitist and full of intellectual snobbery. This is primarily because Classics is predominantly a very privileged field, and although Tartt’s writing doesn’t come across as snobbish, some of the characters do.
  • From a socialist perspective, I found it very annoying that Richard wanted to constantly wanted to hide his working class roots and pretend to be a rich snob like everyone else. I wanted him to show them all that he could do whatever they could, without their expensive educations.
  • I did find it quite slow-going, and felt I was not able to sit down and read huge amounts in one sitting. However, I did feel that the slow journey was ultimately rewarding.


Final Overview:

An amazing piece of writing and a stunning debut novel, this is a book I shall certainly be holding onto and reading again. I felt that it really connected with my life right now (as I am about to leave university), and I think that anyone who is in university, or anyone going to university soon, particularly to study an area such as Classics, would really get a lot out of it.

What did you think of the book? Did you find it snobbish, or interesting? Do you think it was worth the accolade of modern classic? Let me know in the comments below! Come back next Thursday to see my review of The Glittering Court by Richelle Mead.

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