The central character is Richard Papen, a scholarship student at an elite college in Vermont. He meets a group of students of Greek, and is drawn into their circle led by the intelligent but enigmatic Henry. His initial excitement at being included in this circle is transformed into something darker as he becomes entangled in their obsessive and ultimately murderous world.
The detailed, unfolding characterization, and the relentless building of menace and foreboding is so impressive for a debut novel. The darkness is lit up by occasional moments of real humour. Tarrt leads the reader through the academic world effortlessly and convincingly.
The Greek milieu is created with great thought and provides a sense of history although the setting is modern times. Classicist readers will be rewarded with extra narrative allusions but this book is written for anyone who enjoys intelligent fiction.
You have to like long books to read Tarrt, but the reward is being taken on a journey few can create. You start this book knowing what happened, you end it knowing why and how it happened, and then you spend the next week or three thinking about everything in between.
Title: The secret history
Author: Donna Tartt
Reviewed by Nick K, Ranui Library
Nick K enjoys reading crime fiction, demonological adult and young adult fiction, classic children’s fiction like Arthur Ransome and picture books, especially those illustrated by Quentin Blake. He hates reality TV.