Review: The Secret History

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The Secret History
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book started off so well, opening with a murder, with intrigue, with the premise of well-to-do socialites drawn in to exploring their ancient carnal natures. There was even a passage toward the beginning–by whom I assumed would take on a leading role but turned out to be little more than a side character–about how the Greeks believed in ritualistically cutting loose since repression was prerequisite to cold-blooded, predatory evil. I thought that’s what this book was going to be about, and in the exposition, it certainly seemed headed in that direction.

Around page 150, Henry confides in the narrator the group’s machinations, popping the bubble Tartt so carefully constructed, and dashing the book’s sense of mystery. From there on out came 400 pages of prose consisting mostly of various characters visiting other characters’ dwellings in every conceivable combination to talk about “what to do next.” The author obsesses over drinking, smoking, sexual pairings, prescription drugs, food, and insomnia. I got the same nihilistic impression from Another Country, The Great Gatsby, and The Sun Also Rises, that sense of “how is this kind of depraved, shallow materialism supposed to drive the plot forward?” It’s employed not as a device or critique, but presented as the actual meat-and-potatoes of the book itself, that I am supposed to spend 400 pages caring about these trust fund babies’ furtive glances, hurt feelings, fragile friendships, sleeping and eating habits, blackout episodes, and betrayals. I didn’t.

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Victor A. Davis has always loved reading and writing short stories. He is an avid hiker and even when away from the world of laptops and wifi, keeps a pocket paperback and a handwritten journal to keep him company on trail. He is the author of two short story collections, Grains of Sand and The Gingerbread Collection. Join his Mailing List for special announcements about upcoming works.