I’ve made no secret of the fact that I did not share the public affection for Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch. Given the praise it received, though, I was determined to take a stab at some of her other work, in hope of discerning that it was the protagonist [quite possible] or the plot [likely not, as I have long loved art history and love books about art even more]—something other than the author, who was universally heralded as a star—that put me off the book. I figured that the easiest way to do this would be to purchase The Secret History, an earlier work by Tartt. Though I picked it up and tried to get into it to no avail twice before I actually read it all the way through, the third time was the charm, and I can now proudly confirm that I have read and enjoyed at least one of Tartt’s works.
The book checks off all the boxes many of my favorites do: it follows a group of friends with a hyper-specific shared interest [much like The Interestings] at an elite New England college [based on Bennington, but the similarities to my own alma mater were certainly pleasing] who commit a heinous crime [as in all the psychological thrillers I cannot seem to get enough of]. Following the first twenty pages that I had struggled to get through a couple times before, this go-around was a different story.
The strongest aspect of The Secret History is not the story, but its structure. Both the guilty party and the culprit of the murder are revealed in the Prologue; the purpose of the first part of the book is to explain why this seemingly inseparable group of students would kill one of their own [again, this is not a spoiler—unless you’re not planning to make it past the prologue]. Because of this early reveal, the book isn’t ideal for those who thrive on cliffhangers and suspense, but if you enjoy an atmospheric novel with a distinct focus on character development, I guarantee you’ll get lost in its pages.