The Secret History by Donna TarttThe Secret History by Donna Tartt

The Secret History

byDonna Tartt

Paperback | April 13, 2004

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about

Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, established herself as a major talent with The Secret History, which has become a contemporary classic.

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.
Donna Tartt won the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent Novel. The Goldfinch Her novelsl The Secret History and The Little Friend were also international bestsellers. She was born in Greenwood, Mississippi, and is a graduate of Bennington College.
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Title:The Secret HistoryFormat:PaperbackDimensions:576 pages, 8 × 5.2 × 1 inPublished:April 13, 2004Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:1400031702

ISBN - 13:9781400031702

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from I loved this! One of my favourite books. #plumreview Creepy though.
Date published: 2017-09-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great read A terrific read about genius and coming-of-age
Date published: 2017-09-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Really good As always, Donna Tartt delivers.
Date published: 2017-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from AMAZING Just buy it, it's better if you have no idea what it's about.
Date published: 2017-07-25
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Impeccably written, but ultimately disappointing From the very first page I was drawn into this story. The author is an excellent writer. I often had the feeling that some unique way she would describe a character was incredibly original, but yet was exactly how I had felt before. I found the ending to this story very disappointing, but maybe I had my hopes up too much from the way the story was framed in the early pages. Ultimately, I would read another Donna Tartt book because she is a great writer, but I think her story lines might be a little "artsy" and hidden meaning- ish for my taste.
Date published: 2017-07-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from An Thrilling Read The way that Tartt takes you through this novel is poetically seamless. A beautiful story of youth, intrigue, mystery, and betrayal.
Date published: 2017-07-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Alarming Beauty I read this over a year and a half ago and I still find myself thinking about this book, this world, and these characters. Donna Tartt has crafted a beautifully dark and seductive story that features a group of academics, murder, and ancient history. You are almost left feeling unsettled upon finishing because of how captivating and engrossing this story is. Will definitely be re-reading in the future.
Date published: 2017-06-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Secret History The Secret History mimics a Greek tragedy. Richard Papen, who is studying the Classics is an outsider at a prestigious American college. He manages to become the sixth student in an Ancient Greek class, whose charismatic teacher normally allows only five students to enrol each year. The other five students who have been studying together for some time come from a background of wealth and privilege - not at all like Richard's hard-scrabble upbringing. The murder of one of the members of the group is revealed on the first page. The first half of the book deals with the events leading up to the murder and the murder itself. In the second half, the remainder of the group must deal with the aftermath of the act. Their tightly-knit group swiftly declines into fear, recrimination and remorse. This book could best be described as a psychological thriller. The unravelling of the group is suspenseful and Donna Tartt is such a good writer that I actually found myself caring about people who would normally cause me to raise my eyebrows at their arrogance and entitlement. My only complaint? I would have liked to find out more about their teacher. There are plenty of hints about his control over his students but ultimately he manages to remain at arms-length and walk away from the situation. This is a first novel for the author who goes on to become a Pulitzer Prize winning novelist. I'm not surprised - she is brilliant!
Date published: 2017-05-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from literary masterpiece my all time favorite novel, beautifully written, intriguing plot, fascinating and intricate characters. An absolute masterpiece.
Date published: 2017-05-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Incredible novel Tartt's novel is an absolute masterpiece. So well written with an intriguing first chapter (the first lecture is an absolute pleasure to read). Would definitely recommend.
Date published: 2017-04-13
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Read and Re-read! I could read this book over and over. It left me feeling so connected to the characters. Dark and cerebral, I never wanted it to end.
Date published: 2017-03-28
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Dark and Wonderful! I picked up this novel not knowing what to expect out of it. Turns out its a very intense and dark tale. Well worth the read, beautiful words that create fantastic imagery. Very twisted and exciting!
Date published: 2017-03-08
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Dark Story I should of looked more into this book before reading. I had high hopes but found the story disturbing in parts and not exactly what I had hoped for. I found the narrative drawn out at times but loved the writing style. It was compelling enough for me to finish but left me a little disappointed at the end.
Date published: 2017-03-04
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Charming A timeless tale about friendship and learning from the mistakes we make in early adulthood.
Date published: 2017-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Secret History Donna Tartt takes about 10 years to write a book and you can tell! Her attention to detail is incredible. This book remains one of my favourite books of all time. It pulls you into the dark, intellectual world of some students and you really want to stay with them to figure out what is going on! I did not love her later books as much as this one.
Date published: 2017-01-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from It Can Go Either Way This story is both compelling and also a bore. I think most people will side with either extreme while I find it a bit of both. Compelling enough for me to finish it, but there were many details and so the book is quite long and drawn out. The characters are also highly unlikeable, as they are meant to be, but you learn to sympathize with them. Not exactly my cup of tea but it was still an interesting read.
Date published: 2017-01-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Read I picked up this novel not knowing what to expect out of it. Turns out its a very intense and dark tale. Well worth the read, beautiful words that create fantastic imagery
Date published: 2016-12-15
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Incredibly Writing, Somewhat Drawn Out The writing in this novel is fantastic, if one takes a single page to read and reread you are bound to find all sorts of fantastic imagery and dreamlike settings to fawn over. The novel does tend to drag a bit periodically throughout, but overall makes for a fun, dangerous read.
Date published: 2016-11-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Ok This book was pretty good, but it reads more like genre fiction than literary fiction. Her characters and prose were a bit cliche for my taste, but the story was ok.
Date published: 2016-11-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Meh This was ok but I felt the plot, characters, and setting were all pretty predictable. Tartt is a decent writer, but nothing to get excited about. Not worth all the hype.
Date published: 2016-11-18
Rated 5 out of 5 by from must read this book is amazing!!!!! a must read!!!!!
Date published: 2016-11-16
Rated 5 out of 5 by from My favourite novel This novel won't disappoint you. It's one of the most atmospheric novels I've ever read and it's got a twist like you've never seen one. Great Autumn/Winter read!
Date published: 2016-11-02
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Not worth buying I had heard a lot of great things about this book from other people so I thought it would be a great read. Unfortunately, that was not the case. I had such a hard time finishing the book and had to force myself to read it all. The characters were not relatable at all. I didn't care for the main character at all. All the characters of this book are pretentious pricks.
Date published: 2016-06-05
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The College Club This was the second Donna Tartt book I read in succession. In reading three of her books, her method is the same every time. An introduction with an issue, and the rest of the book, gives the story resolution. After three books, this method is predictable. It was a good read, it had that kept me reading for more draw, but it did not knock my socks off. Sadly. If you are a Donna Tartt fan, reading her stories are not wasted read time.
Date published: 2016-06-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from LIT my favorite book to date. nothing else i've ever read amounts to this.
Date published: 2016-01-20
Rated 1 out of 5 by from big disappointment I was really disappointed with this book, I actually had to struggle to get through it, can not relate to any of the characters, it's like watching a long movie just trying to get to the end of it. Certainly would not want to read anything of Donna Tartt, can not understand all the good reviews here.
Date published: 2015-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Intriguing Plot, Memorable Characters The Secret History's rich characters, sharp plotting, and beautiful writing combine to make it my favourite book. Henry is one of the most memorable, interestingly developed characters I've ever read - Henry and Lucky Strikes are forever mixed in my mind. Richard is relatable as a reader proxy. The bacchanal scene is unforgettable. I reread this book over and over, and find new things to love about it every time.
Date published: 2014-11-14
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A stunning read I started reading this book on the advisement of reviewers from this website. The story itself is dark and disturbingly arousing because it takes you to a place that is so removed from stagnant, middle class life. Part Gatsby, part Dead Poet's Society and reprehensible narcissism all woven together with exquisite composition.
Date published: 2014-08-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Beauty is in The Tragedy Wow. If there was one word to describe my feelings after turning the last page over, it would be "wow". Donna Tartt has seamlessly created a group of characters so vivid and lifelike that they pull you into their inner circle and make you feel like you are listening in on their private dramas. The beautiful settings and extravagant descriptions are really of no comparison.. It may be dreary all of the time but the way it's described is beyond your dreams. Tragedy may be the name of the game in The Secret History, and though this "whydunit" makes you question all of your morals, you are still left with a deep longing compassion for all of its characters. Donna Tartt pulls you in and doesn't let you go until the final page... A beautifully tragic love note to the classic Greek tragedies of the past. Definitely going on my list of favourites!
Date published: 2014-07-21
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Considered A Modern Classic for a VERY Good Reason! This is my first of Donna Tartt's works, and it will NOT be the last. This book is exceptional!  Captivating from the opening pages until the very end, this book is perhaps one of the most calculated and careful works I have ever read. I felt like I knew the characters, had stepped foot on the collage campus in which the book is set, had overheard their whispers in the Commons areas. I read this book very slowly, and often out loud because the prose was so beautiful.  Donna Tartt has found a fan in me and I greatly look forward to reading both The Little Friend and The Goldfinch!  Highly recommend :).
Date published: 2014-03-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The Beauty is in The Tragedy This is a book to make you think. Surprisingly I could not put it down and looked forward to finding out what the characters were doing. It is a story that makes you think with characters that are believable. It addresses the impacts of peer group pressure, depression and wealth which can easily be related to the current time. I highly enjoyed this read and can't wait to read more by Donna Tartt.
Date published: 2014-01-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Damn. This book drew me in from page one and I am at a loss for words to describe how good it is. I'm speechless. Damn.
Date published: 2013-10-22
Rated 3 out of 5 by from The Secret History by Donna Tart Long, beautifully written, melancholic and poignant.
Date published: 2013-02-08
Rated 4 out of 5 by from An original, fantastical story Tartt is such a clever writer, I can't say enough about her skill. This book, which mirrors the story-telling styles of Greek tragedy, is full of deeply disturbed, yet somehow likeable, characters. The reader is so gradually brought into their Secret History, that by the time you realize how abhorrant they are, you have developed a real true liking for them. The beauty of this, of course, is that the reader is told of their crime in the first few pages ... Compelling reading, excellent writing, and suspenseful storytelling make this an excellent novel.
Date published: 2009-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Great Psychological Read I wasn't sure what to expect from this book...but i ended up loving it. The darkness of it, the slightly British tinge to it, the eloquent way the words flowed...all made for fast reading. Richard, the narrator, tells the tale of how he and five others "reinvent" themselves to be these dark and foreboding characters, as though they stepped right out of some dry, British novel, filled with Irish whiskey, smokey rooms, and nights spent studying the meaning of all things Greek. This was a strong psychological read that kept me up late at night.
Date published: 2009-02-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Engrossing! Donna Tartt's first book. She is a very good writer and leads up to revelations slowly. It began kind of slow but the details of the characters made them very real. The character, Henry, has to be one of the most intereting characters I have read of. I am looking forward to reading Donna's next book when it costs about $5.
Date published: 2008-05-25
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Creepy Thriller This is a thriller that creeps up on you before you know it. It's got atmosphere, a camaraderie of amoral characters, some pretty good descriptions of a Vermont setting and reckless fun and games that end in more than tears. The premise is very simple though a little outlandish. However, Tartt does a good job weaving a spell that traps the reader just as the main character is trapped. Not for those who like their gore heavy handed but for those who like a room full of shadows and their mysteries dark around the edges. It is a bit long, though--it feels like the author could go on and on and on, and she sometimes does, but I recommend this book as summer page turner and suspenseful psychological thriller. It's also creepy how Tartt gets the reader to go along with a story this bizarre. And yet. And yet.
Date published: 2006-08-05

Read from the Book

PROLOGUETHE SNOW in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. He’d been dead for ten days before they found him, you know. It was one of the biggest manhunts in Vermont history—state troopers, the FBI, even an army helicopter; the college closed, the dye factory in Hampden shut down, people coming from New Hampshire, upstate New York, as far away as Boston.   It is difficult to believe that Henry’s modest plan could have worked so well despite these unforeseen events. We hadn’t intended to hide the body where it couldn’t be found. In fact, we hadn’t hidden it at all but had simply left it where it fell in hopes that some luckless passer-by would stumble over it before anyone even noticed he was missing. This was a tale that told itself simply and well: the loose rocks, the body at the bottom of the ravine with a clean break in the neck, and the muddy skidmarks of dug-in heels pointing the way down; a hiking accident, no more, no less, and it might have been left at that, at quiet tears and a small funeral, had it not been for the snow that fell that night; it covered him without a trace, and ten days later, when the thaw finally came, the state troopers and the FBI and the searchers from the town all saw that they had been walking back and forth over his body until the snow above it was packed down like ice.   *   It is difficult to believe that such an uproar took place over an act for which I was partially responsible, even more difficult to believe I could have walked through it—the cameras, the uniforms, the black crowds sprinkled over Mount Cataract like ants in a sugar bowl—without incurring a blink of suspicion. But walking through it all was one thing; walking away, unfortunately, has proved to be quite another, and though once I thought I had left that ravine forever on an April afternoon long ago, now I am not so sure. Now the searchers have departed, and life has grown quiet around me, I have come to realize that while for years I might have imagined myself to be somewhere else, in reality I have been there all the time: up at the top by the muddy wheel-ruts in the new grass, where the sky is dark over the shivering apple blossoms and the first chill of the snow that will fall that night is already in the air.   What are you doing up here? said Bunny, surprised, when he found the four of us waiting for him.   Why, looking for new ferns, said Henry.   And after we stood whispering in the underbrush—one last look at the body and a last look round, no dropped keys, lost glasses, everybody got everything?—and then started single file through the woods, I took one glance back through the saplings that leapt to close the path behind me. Though I remember the walk back and the first lonely flakes of snow that came drifting through the pines, remember piling gratefully into the car and starting down the road like a family on vacation, with Henry driving clench-jawed through the potholes and the rest of us leaning over the seats and talking like children, though I remember only too well the long terrible night that lay ahead and the long terrible days and nights that followed, I have only to glance over my shoulder for all those years to drop away and I see it behind me again, the ravine, rising all green and black through the saplings, a picture that will never leave me.   I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.   BOOK I   CHAPTER 1   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.   A moi. L’histoire d’une de mes folies.   My name is Richard Papen. I am twenty-eight years old and I had never seen New England or Hampden College until I was nineteen. I am a Californian by birth and also, I have recently discovered, by nature. The last is something I admit only now, after the fact. Not that it matters.   I grew up in Plano, a small silicon village in the north. No sisters, no brothers. My father ran a gas station and my mother stayed at home until I got older and times got tighter and she went to work, answering phones in the office of one of the big chip factories outside San Jose.   Plano. The word conjures up drive-ins, tract homes, waves of heat rising from the blacktop. My years there created for me an expendable past, disposable as a plastic cup. Which I suppose was a very great gift, in a way. On leaving home I was able to fabricate a new and far more satisfying history, full of striking, simplistic environmental influences; a colorful past, easily accessible to strangers.   The dazzle of this fictive childhood—full of swimming pools and orange groves and dissolute, charming show-biz parents—has all but eclipsed the drab original. In fact, when I think about my real childhood I am unable to recall much about it at all except a sad jumble of objects: the sneakers I wore year-round; coloring books and comics from the supermarket; little of interest, less of beauty. I was quiet, tall for my age, prone to freckles. I didn’t have many friends but whether this was due to choice or circumstance I do not now know. I did well in school, it seems, but not exceptionally well; I liked to read—Tom Swift, the Tolkien books—but also to watch television, which I did plenty of, lying on the carpet of our empty living room in the long dull afternoons after school.   I honestly can’t remember much else about those years except a certain mood that permeated most of them, a melancholy feeling that I associate with watching “The Wonderful World of Disney” on Sunday nights. Sunday was a sad day—early to bed, school the next morning, I was constantly worried my homework was wrong—but as I watched the fireworks go off in the night sky, over the floodlit castles of Disneyland, I was consumed by a more general sense of dread, of imprisonment within the dreary round of school and home: circumstances which, to me at least, presented sound empirical argument for gloom. My father was mean, and our house ugly, and my mother didn’t pay much attention to me; my clothes were cheap and my haircut too short and no one at school seemed to like me that much; and since all this had been true for as long as I could remember, I felt things would doubtless continue in this depressing vein as far as I could foresee. In short: I felt my existence was tainted, in some subtle but essential way.   I suppose it’s not odd, then, that I have trouble reconciling my life to those of my friends, or at least to their lives as I perceive them to be. Charles and Camilla are orphans (how I longed to be an orphan when I was a child!) reared by grandmothers and great-aunts in a house in Virginia: a childhood I like to think about, with horses and rivers and sweet-gum trees. And Francis. His mother, when she had him, was only seventeen—a thin-blooded, capricious girl with red hair and a rich daddy, who ran off with the drummer for Vance Vane and his Musical Swains. She was home in three weeks, and the marriage was annulled in six; and, as Francis is fond of saying, the grandparents brought them up like brother and sister, him and his mother, brought them up in such a magnanimous style that even the gossips were impressed—English nannies and private schools, summers in Switzerland, winters in France. Consider even bluff old Bunny, if you would. Not a childhood of reefer coats and dancing lessons, any more than mine was. But an American childhood. Son of a Clemson football star turned banker. Four brothers, no sisters, in a big noisy house in the suburbs, with sailboats and tennis rackets and golden retrievers; summers on Cape Cod, boarding schools near Boston and tailgate picnics during football season; an upbringing vitally present in Bunny in every respect, from the way he shook your hand to the way he told a joke.   I do not now nor did I ever have anything in common with any of them, nothing except a knowledge of Greek and the year of my life I spent in their company. And if love is a thing held in common, I suppose we had that in common, too, though I realize that might sound odd in light of the story I am about to tell.   How to begin.

Bookclub Guide

1. Richard states that he ended up at Hampden College by a “trick of fate.” What do you think of this statement? Do you believe in fate?2. When discussing Bacchae and the Dionysiac ritual with his students Julian states, “We don’t like to admit it, but the idea of losing control is one that fascinates controlled people such as ourselves more than almost anything. All truly civilized people--the ancients no less than us--have civilized themselves through the willful repression of the old, animal self” (p. 38). What is your opinion of this theory? Are we all attracted to that which is forbidden? Do we all secretly wish we could let ourselves go and act on our animal instincts? Is it true that “beauty is terror”?3. “I suppose there is a certain crucial interval in everyone’s life when character is fixed forever: for me, it was that first fall term spent at Hampden” (p. 80). Did you have such a crucial interval in your life? What/when was it?4. In the idyllic beginning it is easy to see why Richard is drawn to the group of Greek scholars. It is only after they begin to unravel that we see the sinister side of each of the characters. Do you think any one of the characters possesses true evil? Is there such a thing as true evil, or is there something redeeming in everyone’s character?5. In the beginning of the novel, Bunny’s behavior is at times endearing and at others maddening. What was your initial opinion of Bunny? Does it change as the story develops?6. At times Bunny, with his selfish behavior, seems devoid of a conscience, yet he is the most disturbed by the murder of the farmer. Is he more upset because he was left out of the group or because he feels what happened is wrong?7. Henry says to Richard, “My life, for the most part, has been very stale and colorless. Dead, I mean. The world has always been an empty place to me. I was incapable of enjoying even the simplest things. I felt dead in everything I did. . . . But then it changed . . . The night I killed that man” (p. 463). How does Henry’s reaction compare to that of the others involved in the murder(s)? Do you believe he feels remorse for what he has done?8. Discuss the significance of the scene in which Henry wipes his muddy hand across his shirt after throwing dirt onto Bunny’s coffin at the funeral (p. 395).9. List some of the signs that foreshadowed the dark turn of events. Would you have seen all the signs that Richard initially misses? Or do you believe Richard knew all along and just refused to see the truth?10. Would you have stuck by the group after learning their dark secret?11. The author states that many people didn’t sympathize with Richard. Did you find him a sympathetic character?12. What do you make of Richard’s unrequited love for Camilla? Do you feel that she loved him in return? Or did she use his love for her as a tool to manipulate him?13. Do you feel the others used Richard as a pawn? If so, how?14. What do you feel is the significance of Julian’s toast “Live forever” (p. 86)?15. The author mentions a quote supposedly made by George Orwell regarding Julian: “Upon meeting Julian Morrow, one has the impression that he is a man of extraordinary sympathy and warmth. But what you call his ‘Asiatic Serenity’ is, I think, a mask for great coldness” (p. 480). What is your opinion of Julian?16. Do you think that Julian feels he is somewhat responsible for the murder of Bunny? Is that why he doesn’t turn the group in when he discovers the truth from Bunny’s letter?17. What causes Julian to flee? Is it because of disappointment in his young protegees or in himself?18. While the inner circle of characters (Richard, Charles, Camilla, Henry, Francis, and the ill-fated Bunny) are the center of this tale, those on the periphery are equally important in their own ways (Judy Poovey, Cloke Rayburn, Marion, and so on). Discuss the roles of these characters.19. The rights for The Secret History were initially purchased by director/producer/screenwriter Alan J. Paluka (All The President’sMen, The Pelican Brief), and they are currently with director Scott Hicks (Shine, Snow Falling on Cedars). What are your feelings about making the novel into a movie? Who would play the main characters if you were to cast it?20. What is the meaning of Richard’s final dream?

Editorial Reviews

“The Secret History succeeds magnificently. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously well-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” --The New York Times“An accomplished psychological thriller. . . . Absolutely chilling. . . . Tartt has a stunning command of the lyrical.” --The Village Voice“Beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish.” --Vogue“A haunting, compelling, and brilliant piece of fiction. . . . Packed with literary allusion and told with a sophistication and texture that owes much more to the nineteenth century than to the twentieth.” --The Times (London)“Her writing bewitches us. . . . The Secret History is a wonderfully beguiling book, a journey backward to the fierce and heady friendships of our school days, when all of us believed in our power to conjure up divinity and to be forgiven any sin.” --The Philadephia Inquirer“Enthralling. . . . A remarkably powerful novel [and] a ferociously wll-paced entertainment. . . . Forceful, cerebral, and impeccably controlled.” --The New York Times Book Review“A huge, mesmerizing, galloping read, pleasurably devoured. . . . .Gorgeously written, relentlessly erudite.” –Vanity Fair