As I am often wont to do, once I find an author or series I like, I will read all of them at once in one giant obsessive binge until I finally surface for air and have to face reality again. You say it’s sad and compulsive? Ok, maybe a little. Maybe a lot. It’s not for everyone, and really not advisable for every author. Like Donna Tartt for example. After reading the brilliant, but VERY heavy The Goldfinch, I immediately picked up her other book The Secret History for book club. You guys, she is good. So good. But two straight dark and serious novels does not a happy summer make.
The Secret History reminded me a little of the movie The Skulls. Do y’all remember that one? I don’t think it was very good in reality, but pre-teen me loved it. Plus Paul Walker was super hot. And maybe Pacey was in it too? It was about a secret society at one of the Ivies (Yale?). Clearly I paid much more attention to Pacey than to the plot. But I digress. So, our narrator Richard Papen arrives at Hampden College in Vermont straight off the bus from a small town in California and parents who pretty much didn’t want him around. Obviously, he doesn’t quite fit into his prep-school surroundings and therefore, is easily seduced by an elite group of five students – Henry, Francis, Charles, Camila, and Bunny. All Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. But they take him in and Richard gets to live the elite life for awhile, going out to country club lunches and taking long weekends at summer homes. As Richard is drawn in by their flashy friendship, he figures out a secret they share…a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life…and led to a gruesome death. Yeah, you guys. They pretended to be Greek and I guess decided that meant killing someone. Insane right? And that was just the beginning. Things devolve into madness and while I wish there had been some hysteria, instead there’s lots of alcohol abuse and silent mania.
Remember how I said this was a fun summer read?!?
Actually I would love to have read this book now, as the promise of fall is lurking in the wings and school is starting again. This book is intense, there’s no getting around that. It’s not light and fluffy, but it is really a terrific read. I wouldn’t necessarily call it a mystery because well, these super smart kids like to lay out very elaborate plans and it’s easy to figure out the ending, but it is so dramatic and tense that it gives you the same feel. The suspense is slow burning and masterful, reaching several crests before the final few pages leave you racing through each line. Seriously, I dare anyone to stop reading in the middle of the last chapter. It’s impossible. Tartt is so, so good at it. All of it, any of it. Just like in The Goldfinch, she sucks you in with these remarkably well drawn out characters who aren’t really good and aren’t really bad, they just make the decisions they think are best at the time (or in some cases, let others make decisions for them) and then have to punt a lot…as we all must do. I was fascinated and horrified by this semi-secret society (especially Henry, what a strange and complicated and effed up character) and found the book so smart and entertaining. Also, it’s not a million pages long like The Goldfinch. It’s only like, 500.
Rating: 8, Excellent (Memorable and above par, highly entertaining.)