Sunday, December 19, 2004

The Secret History, by Donna Tartt

This was one of the best books I've read in a long time. I had heard its title mentioned several times from different people, yet knew nothing about it other than it was one of their favorites. When you read this book, you can see why!

The novel is narrated by Richard Papen, a young man who goes to a New England college and decides to study Greek and Classical Studies with a somewhat mysterious professor (he only teaches Greek, he only teaches a handful of students in his office, and he refuses a salary, among other eccentricities) and his five students (none of whom are permitted by the professor to take classes other than his). Richard eventually becomes part of this elite group and, one night, the students take part in a Dionyssia in the middle of the woods -- an event that becomes catastrophic for each of them. The story then traces the students as they cope with the consequences of their late-night revelry: murder, guilt, obsession, and the rapid unraveling of their lives on campus, all leading to an explosive conclusion!

This is a page-turner that I would especially recommend to literature/humanities geeks or anyone who is college-bound. It's filled with university slices-of-life, and the characters sprinkle their dialogue with allusions to tragedy, philosophy, linguistics, etc. just enough to make the reader feel smart. The Secret History is one of those books I will find myself re-reading every few years because I'll want to revisit these characters again, and again.

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