The Secret History – Donna Tartt

“Does such a thing as ‘the fatal flaw,’ that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn’t. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.”

I have tried reading this book three times. Apparently third time is the charm because I did it.

I don’t really know where to start, I can’t seem to fully collect my thoughts. I only know this book evoked a longing inside me that will probably never be satiated.

Before I say anything about this book specifically I would like to mention that I have read all three Donna Tartt books to some extent, meaning until this very moment that I finished The Secret History I had read to some degree all of her books. And I have to say that there is something about the construction of her fiction that can sometimes be a little dragged. Since I experienced this reading all of her books I don’t believe it to be a quality particularly of any of the plots themselves but of her style of writing and the way she constructs her narratives. Now I do admit that for The Secret History in particular this portion of the story (roughly around page 370 until 500) was in a way hard to get by. Thankfully the last bit (from 500 to the end) had a very good pace, in fact Donna’s writing is so compelling that even when you are somewhat bored you are equal parts fascinated with it.

Now onto the book itself.

I’m a fan of dark academia, and it was a pleasure to read what many (myself included) consider to be the original book of the literary genre. The aesthetic in this book is so strong I just with I could just jump into it’s pages and live there forever. The amospheric descriptions, taking inspiration from gothic fiction, are incredibly vivid and transport you into the atmosphere in a completely immersive way.

Although I am not a fan of first person point of view I think it works greatly in this novel for two reasons. The first one is that Richard is an unreliable narrator and this works in favor of the plot and also for us readers to beware of all that he says. Multiple times in the story he tells that he can’t quite remember something, or that his memory of a certain even is foggy, or that he doesn’t care to describe some details because they are dull, or even at the point where he quotes a greek sentence and his immediate translation seems quite incorret. All of it I believe, is meticulously constructed by the author in a way of telling the reader that this narrator is unreliable and that was done in a superb way. The second reason is that although it is indeed a first person point of view it doesn’t read like what you would expect of a first person narration, the narrator’s voice is somewhat diluted and it’s very rare to actually hear his voice in the tale, again this might be just an atempt to be impersonal in telling his tale, and if that is the case it is even more of a win for the writer.

The discussions about art, the sublime, beauty, morality, what is right or wrong, or good or bad are very present in this narrative and they are a constant. Also the apparent disconection of the characters with reality for the duration of their time in Hampden College helps to add another layer of mystery into this narrative and into these characters lives. The fact that they are horrible people and yet in reading their tale you feel eager to join them, you feel yourself starting to be enchanted by them, to find them quite charming and having a sort of ethereal quality, the single fact that the author was able to convey this into the reader’s mind makes me mindblown. And again it leads back to the narrator, since we only see the other’s through his lenses, we are also subject to be influenced by his bias towards the other characters.

Reading this book in the cloudy and cold mornings of november was a delight and I think the memory of the time I spent reading this will stay with me forever.

I still have more I want to say about this book and i don’t think it will ever cease to haunt me. I fell like I will be processing my thoughts and what I read for a long time.

You can purchase this book via my affiliate link and I’ll receive a small comission, click here for the english edition and here for the portuguese edition. 

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