Modern Classics: The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Plot Teaser + my Thoughts)

Hi, friends. Today’s novel, which has been deemed “a modern classic,” is a mysterious slow-burner that keeps readers turning the page.

Plot Teaser (No Spoilers)

This is one of those “flip-flopped” stories that provides a glimpse of a future scene in the beginning then spends much of the book building up to that point. In the “flash-forward,” we learn that the narrator and some accomplices push a boy named Bunny off a cliff, and police don’t find his body for ten days; the narrator refers to the crime as “Henry’s plan.” The narrator muses that he has never really left the scene of the murder in his mind and ends the prologue by saying, “This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

As the book kicks into motion, we meet our narrator, a laidback college-aged guy named Richard. When he moves far from home to attend a small liberal-arts college, he tries to sign up for Greek as his foreign language. He learns that the campus Greek professor has strange, stringent expectations of his students; those who wish to take Greek can only take classes with this professor. Richard doesn’t know anyone there and tends to go with the flow, so he obeys the whim and takes all his courses with this professor, causing him to get entangled in the elite group of Greek students. Henry is the tall, dark, scholarly ringleader; Francis is exotic and elegant; Charles and Camilla are charming, mysterious twins; Bunny is loud, a bit oblivious, and relentlessly cheerful. The group does everything together, and Richard, instantly intrigued by them, is soon roped into their eccentric clique.

Richard spends a lot of time with them, yet he suspects they are keeping things from him. As he grapples with this feeling, little does he know that he is starting on the path that will lead to the flash-forward–uncovering secrets and, eventually, protecting those secrets at all costs. Dun, dun, duuuunnnn…

My Thoughts

Donna Tartt

I really enjoyed this one. I imagine achieving a balance between “slow burner” and “page turner” is tough, but Tartt accomplished just that.

My only critique? The murder scene felt like a let-down. I don’t generally crave gruesomeness from a book, but since I waited for that scene for hundreds of pages, the lack of graphic details seemed anti-climactic. However…

What’s cool about this novel, which makes up for the lacking murder scene, is that the crime is not the climax of the novel. In fact, one might argue the murder is anti-climactic because it’s not the story’s true “aha moment.” Since the crime is initially revealed as the point we are working towards, and because murder is a big deal to say the least, I assumed that scene would be the climax of the novel. But the story extends far beyond the crime, and the real climax towards the end is exhilarating and fulfilling.

A fun fact before you go…

I include an “Additional Details” section with the older classics because they tend to have some interesting trivia around them and/or have a cultural impact. This book hasn’t had as much time to influence art or have a lasting impact yet, but I did find this–

Most author-debut novels get 10,000 prints, but 75,000 prints were initially ordered for this one. It has since sold over five million copies and been translated into 24 languages.

Also…

Donna Tartt was born Dec. 23, 1963 and raised in Greenwood, MS. The Secret History was published in 1992.

Thanks for reading! Have you read this one? Do you like mysteries and other eerie genres? Let me know in the comments.

6 comments

  1. Hi, Lily! I hope you are well. On my prayer list, I wrote down in October to pray that you would be able to move into a handicap-accessible place. So sorry if you mentioned it in a post and I missed it, but I was wondering if you had an update on that. Praying for you, girl! ๐Ÿ˜Š

    Liked by 1 person

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