Book Review: The Secret History

The Secret History cover

I hope that everyone is having a good week, and either
enjoying the relaxing vacation, or putting up with the monotony of the daily

Things are going pretty well here, though I am a little
behind schedule, as I can still do what I like,

As mentioned before, I had gotten a few titles during the
month from Amazon, after not being too active as of late, that I thought would
try out, and out of those titles, only one remains.

Today, I will be reviewing that last remaining title, which
called The Secret History by
Donna Tartt.

Richard Papen has lived a somewhat normal life, or least one
that could be considered normal, and has decided to attend college across the

However, when he finds out that the college has a course in
Greek, something he excels at, and tries to apply for it, he gets tangled up in
a mess that will forever change his life, as he and fellow classmates find out
just how easy it is to kill and the difficulty of living with mistakes.

When I first heard about this book, I was talking to an
acquaintance who has a couple of similar interests with me and he thought I
might like this book, so I decided to give it a try.

And after reading this, I can say that I did like, though
not quite as much as I would have wanted.

From the moment I picked up this book and started reading
it, I found myself so engrossed that I did not want to stop reading, at least
for most of the early portion of the book.

As I reiterated time and time again, to the point that I am even
more tired of saying it, one of the most important things about a work of
fiction is how things begin, as that is what helps the audience get that
temporary escape that they desire.

While the necessary pull a work fiction needs can be
accomplished in many different ways, depending on the genre and kind of work, there
are two main ways that a prose work like this can pull readers in, which is how
the writer strings word together and create images in the minds of the readers.

Even though I would not say Donna has a way with words, like
so many other great writers, who are still alive or have already passed on, the
way she was able to create images in my head almost all the time did help me to
become invested in the story enough that I lost track of where I was and did
not want to be disturbed, though I hate being disturbed when reading anyway
because it take so much concentration, especially in text heavy works like this.

This is why the power of being able to imagine something is
so important when one is expected to be able to draw images in their mind, and
Donna seems to really understand this quite well.

If she had failed to even help me see what she wanted me to
see, I would have stopped reading the book even earlier than the moments that I
felt like stopping, because it would have shown that Donna Tartt did not really
understand the medium too well.

Thankfully, she realized how important it was for the
audience to be able to see what is going on, and that makes me feeling like
giving Donna a good round of applause.

Hopefully, Donna can maintain this ability to create images
in her other work, as I am sure there are quite a few people that liked her,
but because I do not think that I would read any more work from her, I will
likely never find out if this was some fluke or not.

I also liked how well the characters were fleshed out.

One of the biggest problems with fiction today is how the
characters seem to have nothing in them to make them actual people, because
they seem to be interesting only within the confines of the plot, thereby
making epilogues, which seem to be all the rage these days, feel completely and
utterly useless, regardless of whether is really closes curtain or not.

Here, however, the characters seemed to have some
personality and actually felt like real people, though not necessarily the kind
that I would ever want to meet.

This interested me because it actually felt a bit like a
case study on people like them and made feel that the characters were not
really just sticks that Donna was moving around and that I cared about what
they were going through, at least when things were interesting.

If Donna had not taken the time to flesh out characters
enough, I would have been given even more reason to quit reading the book than
I already had from other issues, thereby missing out on what made the book any

Fortunately, Donna worked hard to try and make me feel like
these were actual people with realistic problems, and that makes me feel like
her her another good round of applause.

Hopefully, she can continue doing a good job in this area,
as I do not recall anybody being able to do this as well as Weston Kincade, but
this is yet another thing that I would never know if it was a fluke or not, due
to my decision to not check out any more of her work.

Another thing that I liked was how I had so many questions
going through my mind.

While none of the questions seemed really big, since most of
the things that really seemed powerful were some small tidbits and there,
making them more of questions to get the audience engaged with the work, it
helped me become invested when I was starting to feel a little bored, and
helped me see why people consider this a mystery novel.

Even though I would not consider this a mystery a novel,
since the way things played out makes it feel more like crime fiction, this was
kind of what I was expecting going in to it, which helped to keep it from being
a complete bore.

If Donna had just forgotten about providing any questions at
all, I would have been even more disappointed than I already am, making it far
easier to put this book down and forget it.

Thankfully, Donna remembered the most basic thing every work
of fiction needs, and that makes me feel like giving her another good round of

Hopefully, Donna can do even better in the future, by
actually posing questions that make me thinking deeply, as I think that she
might be able to do it, but I still not convinced enough that I would want to
check out more of her work.

The thing that I liked the most though was how things end.

Other than how things begin, the other thing that is very
important in a work of fiction is how things end, because it is supposed to give
the reader an incentive to continue on, if it is part of a series, or if it is
a standalone work like this, leave the reader with a sense satisfaction.

While I would not say that I am completely satisfied with
the end, when looking at how it did, I get a sense of satisfaction from reading
that almost no book has because I feel like I might have learned something,
even now, though I cannot really say that I really did learn something, or even
had my eyes opened.

This is the kind of ending I and many other readers want to
see in a work, as it shows the mark of true talent and effort to put out the
best story possible, and Donna really delivered.

If Donna had not delivered this kind of ending, I would have
been even more disappointed that I even wasted my time, because things were not
absolutely perfect to begin with.

Fortunately, Donna was able to provide a good example of
being able of ending this in a really satisfying way, which makes me want to
give her another good round of applause.

Hopefully, Donna will continue delivering endings this good,
as that will help attract more eyes, but seeing as I am already done with her,
I will not likely find out if she is any good as she appears to be.

Outside of those things, I cannot think of anything else
that I particularly liked, at least that could stand out as much as what I
talked about or I could even really explain.

Because my interest was captured relatively quickly, through
the great use of imagery, characters were fleshed out enough to feel real, the
questions kept me interested, though they were not quite as deep as other
things that were said in the text, and the ending gave me the kind of
satisfaction that I do not encounter too often, this was a pretty good read.

Although I liked the book, there are some issues.

However, aside from things are that too minor to talk about,
such as typos, only one thing which bothered me, which was how difficult this
was to read.

When readers read, they want to get absorbed in a work
because they are using books and stories as a method of getting the temporary
escape that they desire, much like how people go see movies and watch
television for the same reason, and the words on the page are used to not only
bring people into the world, but keep them there.

While bringing people over to a new world in a written work
is easy, the hardest thing is to keep the reader invested, and one of those
things that do that is how well things the words flow.

In this book, the words flowed kind of well, so it kind of
filled in that need, but if I had to say why this book was so difficult, aside
from the fact that I could not really figure out how to pronounce things,
though I thought I recognized the usage of Q.E.D., it would have to be the fact
that the chapters seemed to be too long.

Now, people familiar with the world of writing might be
screaming at me, saying that there is no standard word count that one would say
comprises a chapter, since chapters should technically be as long as they need
to be to fulfill itself purpose, but long chapters have major problems, such as
making it hard for people to find where they left off or making them interested
in reading to begin with, when a person has very little time.

While I certainly have the time for a long chapter, and even
read a few work with long chapters, the difference between those works is that
they were able to provide decent break points and they rarely felt boring when
nothing of significance was happening, while Donna almost never provided a
break point and talked about everything Richard did, while not giving me
any reason to be interested until some questions meant to attract the reader’s
attention had come up.

By doing this, I felt like I needed to read chapters in
order to feel like I could get break, rather than reading because I interested,
making it feel more like a chore than something to enjoy, much like many of the
so called classics that do not deserve to be considered classics.

If Donna cut the chapters down into shorter chunks, or the
editors and proofreaders who went through this in the late 80’s or early 90’s,
seeing as Amazon says this book was published in 1992, had made Donna break the
chapters into smaller chunks, I would have been able to really enjoy this at my
leisure, and been able to like this more.

Unfortunately, the chapters were not cut, which made me have
to wade through 70 to 85 page long chapters, and that really made it harder for
me, and possibly anybody else, to read.

Hopefully, Donna can do better than this, by realizing the
appeal of shorter chapters or denoting sections, but because she seems to
already be on the same pedestal as F. Scott Fitzgerald with this work, I have
little interest in finding out if she has learned anything.

Thankfully, this was the only thing that really bothered me,
so Donna can least walk away knowing that she did not completely and utterly

While there was only one real issue to be found, it was the
kind a reader should never have to suffer through and it really hurt the book.

Despite the fact that there was quite a bit to like, the
only real negative outweighed this enough to make it only good enough to kill

I mainly recommend this to fans of Donna Tartt, as they will
be able to like this the most.

As for everyone else, this might be worth giving a try, as
it is not completely irredeemable, like many of the books out there considered
classics, but be sure you really have the time to invest in it, since chapters
can be extremely long.

If you liked this review and would like to see more, please
consider supporting me on either Patreon or SubscribeStar, or if you would
to check out the reviewed title for yourself, buy
The Secret History
from Book Depository, who offers free shipping to
many countries around the world, so that I can find more worthwhile reads for
you guys to check out.

Copyright © 2019 Bryce Campbell. All Rights Reserved.