Saturday, 27 December 2014

Review: The Secret History by Donna Tartt

American college students doing drugs, studying Greek and committing murder.  Donna Tartt lures us into a world where the normal limits of college life disappear and something closer to supernatural anarchy takes over.  There are half-revealed scenes of ritual horror, betrayals of trust, free love for some, tantalising frustrations for others. 

The narrator, Richard Pappin, endures the agony and the ecstasy of becoming a member of an elite Greek class at Hampden College, Vermont, led by Julian Morrow, a brilliant and enigmatic professor, who remains mostly in the shadows and, despite his almost incestuous attachment to his exceptionally gifted students, is only partially aware of their extra curricular obsessions.

Richard is granted entry to this elite group and begins to find out how Bunny, Francis, Henry, Camilla and Charles tick, although there is always the notion that secrets are being withheld from him.  We, too feel that we are honorary members of the group, only permitted to look through the blinds, as it were.  The result of such a fragmented view is that, in addition to constantly having to second guess what will happen (which we expect to do in any good mystery), we find ourselves fretting, worrying what these dysfunctional characters will do next to sink themselves more deeply in the mire. At times, it is almost like reading something by Enid Blyton.  'The Secret Seven', grown up and with pathological tendencies.  Friendship has never been quite so stressful, or downright dangerous.

I did enjoy this book immensely, but there was something so destructive woven into the fabric of the writing, that when I got to the final page and saw the full-page photograph of the author, I actually shuddered.  Here was Henry, just as I had imagined him, but in female form. 

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy a seriously disturbing murder mystery with more than a pinch of pure madness.

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