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The Secret History

The Secret History - Donna Tartt The first two-thirds of The Secret History are suspenseful, mysterious, and intriguing, then it drops off. The final third drags and follows a pattern of 1) a conversation that reveals some lurid secret, 2) binge-drinking/drug use, 3) repeat to end. This could be interesting if the characters really went off the rails, but it didn't read as though they were really unraveling or grappling with what they'd done. They were drinking too much and doing drugs from the start and none of them seem particularly remorseful - just scared of getting caught.

The pressure of getting found out is what they were cracking under, not that...idk, murdering your friend is probably a very difficult thing to cope with (but then again, maybe not, if that friend is Bunny). And I didn't really care either way if they got caught. I didn't care about them, I didn't care about Bunny (or the farmer), and Tartt never really prompts the reader to think about the morality of it all or what's at stake. The character's are never REALLY at risk of losing everything, or at least I never got that sense. So what's Tartt's point? I'm not sure.

I also couldn't peg the time period. The dialogue is the main reason this was so difficult. They all called each other "sport" and "old boy" and "son". I get that they're out of touch with the world around them because they're so involved with the classics and are so very rich. But it was so very distracting and prevented me from really visualizing the scene at Hampden. I kept thinking: When are we? Do rich people really talk like this? They're supposed to be in college? Stop talking like Jay Gatsby. Judy was the only believable college student in the whole book, and even she was a caricature, and a peripheral character to boot.

The characters never quite "got there". I'm not sure if we were supposed to hate them, admire them, fear them, envy them. Everyone likes a good villain, but they didn't feel particularly villainous. They never felt truly evil (except maybe Henry) or frightening , just entitled and beyond reproach. And aggravating. Maybe that's the point, but again, Tartt doesn't really bring us to a discussion on morality, good, evil, and the mundane.

One last thing - the bacchanal. I kept waiting for more on that other than the really vague and reluctant descriptions she gave us. I'm not sure why she left such a pivotal and wild event so obscured. Why even include a bacchanal if you're not going to get into it? Not necessarily the details of how they reached that level of ecstasy or transcendence (or whatever you want to call it), but what it was like, how belief fits in (other than that you need to truly believe...whatever that means), and how that belief system allows them to justify the chain of events that the bacchanal kicks off.

All that said, I actually did like it. It had shortcomings, sure, but in all I had fun reading it and will likely read other work by Tartt in the future. I'm sure there are structural techniques I'm overlooking and nods to Greek literature that went completely over my head. I'm pretty confident that someone who has a greater knowledge of the classics would get more out of this than I did. Still, I enjoyed it.