The Secret History by Donna Tartt is narrated by Richard Papen, a new student attending a school called Hampden College in Vermont. Upon arriving, he is given the opportunity to take an ancient Greek class, in which he meets five Classics students: Charles, Camilla, Henry, Richard, and Bunny, who he grows close with within the first few months of the year. However, from the very first line in the prologue, Tartt spoils the fact that Bunny is eventually murdered, leading the novel to center around this event and how it was dealt with by the rest of the group.
Throughout the course of the story, Tartt alludes to several themes concerning the dangers of appearance and the romanticization of the elite class. For example, Richard is initially attracted to the group due to their wealthy, or as he describes, “magnificent,” appearances. He even fabricates aspects of his past in order to better fit in. However, as the group’s secrets, out-of-touch personalities, and extreme flaws slowly begin to unfold, it shows how their beauty never went beyond surface-level. No matter how rich they were, they were unable to cover up the guilt they felt from the damage they’ve caused.
What I found most intriguing and unique about this plot compared to others is that although Richard provides a well-paced, extremely detailed description of the course of events before and after Bunny’s death, he constantly alludes to the fact that he is a great liar, causing readers to question how valid his perspective truly is. Especially since he isn’t as involved in the group’s plans as others, the audience is left feeling as if they need to know more, and that there are gaps in the narration that can be filled by another character’s point of view. Therefore, I found myself continuing to contemplate the story days after I had finished it, making the novel an extremely memorable read that I see myself recommending to almost everyone.
The Secret History by Donna Tartt is available to check out from the Mission Viejo Library. It is also available to download for free from Libby.