Book Review | The Secret History by Donna Tartt: Gripping, Slow-Burn Goodness

The Secret History - Donna TarttTitle: The Secret History
Author: Donna Tartt
Genre: Literary Fiction – Thriller/Suspense
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Release Date: September 4, 1992
Pages: 576


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 they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.


What’s the protocol for reviewing super old books? In the 20+ years this has been out I’m sure it’s been reviewed an infinite amount of times. I suppose I am mostly writing out my thoughts to convince others who may be on the fence about checking out her work to pick this up.

Our narrator is Richard. He comes from a humble background in California and he has parents who don’t particularly care about him and who he doesn’t get along with. He decides to go to Hampden College in Vermont to get as far away from them as possible. At this college is a Greek class taught by a professor named Julian. What’s special about this class is that he is very particular about who can join and he teaches every class these students take. The class only contains 5 students. Richard is entranced with this group of greek students and does his damnedest to be included in the class. Eventually he is let in, and that’s where everything starts.

The Secret History - Donna Tartt

“[…] Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

The very first page of the book tells us that one of the elite students of their greek class is dead and the other students in the class had a hand in killing him. This is clearly not a book about who did it, but rather WHY they did it. What was the motivation? What could have possibly caused them to kill someone who was seemingly their good friend? What were the repercussions of doing it?

I have to applaud Donna Tartt. This book is not only nearly 600 pages, but extremely dense. Even though I knew that Bunny would die, I was completely gripped as I was reading. This book is very much a slow-burn. You can’t just rush through The Secret History. You really have to spend time with it and ruminate in it.

And the characters? Not one of them was a good person. Not even Richard. But even though these people did bad things, you still find yourself empathizing with them and even wanting them to get away with what they’ve done. Tartt really did some amazing things in this book. Each detail, each and every sentence was masterfully crafted.

I think my favorite thing about the book was the underlying tense and suspenseful tone. You just got this feeling that more was going on than what was being shown on the surface.

I really enjoyed this book, and I definitely want to read her other books after experiencing The Secret History. Her writing and storytelling style is right up my alley.

5 Stars!

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7 thoughts on “Book Review | The Secret History by Donna Tartt: Gripping, Slow-Burn Goodness

  1. I read this book about 15 years ago and loved it and plan on re-reading it again in the next year. It is my favorite Donna Tartt book. I am glad to hear that it has held up well since publication and hasn’t become dated.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve heard from many that this is their favorite Donna Tartt book. And yes, you can hardly feel the age of this book! Definitely held up. Have you read her other two books? If so, what did you think? Trying to decide if I should read The Little Friend or The Goldfinch next :)


      • I have to admit that I was disappointed with The Little Friend. To be honest, I was probably experiencing a bit of a book hangover after The Secret History because I had enjoyed that so much. I did however enjoy The Goldfinch.


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