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‘The Secret History’ by D. Tartt.


The plot is very difficult to discuss without giving anything away! The book examines the idea of group mentality, the notion of the Greek ‘fatal flaw’ in a character, class structures, etc. etc. It’s set in New England, in an unspecified time period, and revolves around the lives of 6 Classics students who find themselves embroiled in murder and mystery.

As for the principle characters, I loved them, honestly. They were the right combination of beautiful Classical figures, with an underlying element of hubris, selfishness and even malevolence. In other words, they are very realistic creatures.

The structure of the novel is interested too: it’s about Greek scholars, and is written to parallel the Classical tragedies, again and again coming back to the idea of the tragic figure, foreshadowing, and that fatal flaw. But at the same time there’s a beautiful Dostoyevsky-ish undertone to the whole thing; it’s obviously deliberate, and is directly mentioned by the narrator, but never falls into the trap of self-consciousness. Stylistically, it’s beautiful, though I must admit I’m a sucker for the biased perspective of the unreliable narrator. The shifting flow and rhythm of the writing work perfectly to create both atmosphere and emotion – these are Stoics, by and large, so the sense of what they’re feeling is perhaps best conveyed through the suggestive language and form.

A lot of people have commented on the lack of a definitive temporal setting for the novel – I particularly loved this. After all, we’re talking about a concept that spans thousands of years of human literature. The characters are often straight out of a Greek tragedy, down to the suggestions of incest and pseudo-pederastic adoration on Julian’s part. Then there are the hints of an early 20th century setting, complete with the appropriate slang and dress; perhaps this is simply a lazy way of enabling a stark representation of the class system (again reminiscent of the earlier Greek social structure), but I don’t think so. I think it was a deliberate choice that not only adds to the mystery of the novel as a whole, but also conveys the undeniable knowledge that human nature is largely consistent; desires, darkness, selfishness, ego – these things haven’t disappeared with time.

Overall, I’d give it 9 out of 10. I’d highly recommend it!

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