Years ago, when my girlfriend at the time thrust this book in my hands and said that I had to read this, I was highly skeptical. The Secret History? By Donna Tartt? This was obviously a trashy romance novel written by someone who was unable to come up with an original pseudonym. Then I vaguely remembered reading something of Tartt's in "The Greatest American SportsWriting of 1993." It was about her being a cheerleader and was empty of most of the sports writing cliches. On the strength of that memory, I decided to give this book a chance. To be completely honest though, the desire to not anger my girlfriend also played a part.
When I started reading it, I found myself very pleasantly surprised, especially since it was a debut novel. There was also a secret history behind The Secret History
An ancient historian named Procopius wrote a book under the same title, about the reign of Justinian I, and though the subject matter is very different than what Procopius wrote about, I later read that Tartt included some similarities that are only apparent on close examination of the book.
First, Tartt quotes Greek philosopher Plato early on in the book. The book centers around six students in an affluent American college. There are seven characters in all, apparently a Greek drama included this many main characters. There is also a mentor, a man named Julian, who gets this group to drop their guards and participate in a ritual that the Greeks called a Bacchanal, where they would worship the Greek god of revelry, Dionysus. This is where it gets really interesting: During this frenzied reveling in a forest by these six students, a man is accidentally killed. Coping with the aftermath severely tests all the friendships, and even leaves them killing one of their own, one who cannot cope with what has happened. Although the second victim was a total bumbling, arrogant person, I found myself sympathizing with him as well.
Like John Irving's "A Prayer for Owen Meany, " this was another book that I read very slowly, appreciating Tartt's use of language. She also carefully crafted personalities for each of the people in the book, making them seem human, rather than cardboard cutouts, even the less-sympathetic people. Her narrator doesn't even really make his presence known in the book, rather taking a neutral stance from the side of the action.
While some have decried her writing as that of some one who was just trying to show off her vast intellect, I found the book very thought-provoking and only mildly overwrought in certain areas.
After a 10-year hiatus, where some worried during that whole time that she might be another one-book wonder like Harper Lee, she came out with a new book, titled " The Little Friend." I won't need the recommendation of a significant other to pick this one up.