The Secret History: Whiz, Bang!


I’m behind on my blogging by TWO books! Sincerest apologies to those of you waiting with bated breath to find out what I read on the great family cottage vacation 2012. And the scoop? I made my way first through Donna Tartt’s *The Secret History* which I finished now TWO weeks ago (and so my review will necessarily miss some of its usual punch as I find myself fiddling about in my defective memory…). 

The story opens its first scene with the murder of Bunny. And then back tracks in time to invite the reader to follow along in discovering how six young people could murder a friend. The plot proper begins with our first person protagonist arriving at his liberal arts college and finding himself – nearly by accident – enrolled in a highly selective Greek program: he will be taught all of his classes by one professor and in a class with only six other students. The plot builds slowly – the book comes in at just over 500 pages – with the layering of character motivations, complex relationship and the kinds of influences they are suspect to (the usual sorts of influences that 20 somethings should worry about – alcohol, procrastination, sleep deprivation, sexual desire – but also the more pernicious influences of their narcissistic professor, their callously indifferent classmate (psychotic?) and the danger of rationalism taken to its extreme). 

For our protagonist events and decisions seem to happen *to* him, as if by accident or change, evoking questions of free will, determinism and ethical behaviour. Indeed, that the students are all intensively studying Ancient Greek nicely aligns with the thematic concerns with the extent of individual will, the hazards of an overly rational mind, the limits of community and the perils of group persuasion. 

The novel doesn’t spend all its time in these heady philosophical questions; rather, the richly layered and complex plot pulls these questions to the fore without explicitly evoking them in a marvellous demonstration of the literary possibilities of a well crafted mystery-thriller. 

I’d strongly recommend this one to anyone interested in such a literary thriller. It comes with full character development, unpredictable – even as it is self-reflective – decision making by such characters, and an entirely suspenseful plot. Well done. 


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Filed under Fiction, Mystery, Prize Winner

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