Donna Tartt’s The Secret History is the perfect summer, beach read for folks that fancy themselves above such types of books. In this novel, Tartt establishes herself as a sort of John Grisham or Stephen King of the literati crowd. I say this because, at its core, The Secret History is a real page-turner. It is a wildly exciting, thrilling murder mystery with twists and turns throughout. Really though, this novel is a hybrid of thriller and campus novels.
The murder itself is not what provides the mystery, but rather the murderers. Much like Hitchcock’s Strangers on a Train, there is no mystery to whodunit. In fact, the first few pages of The Secret History serve as the narrator’s confession to the reader, as well as the implication of every other character that had a hand in the murder. Now, the only question is, what will they do in the aftermath?
The group of killers is composed of classical Greek students. And this is where the highbrow stuff comes into play. I’m ashamed to say that it took me nearly 100 pages worth of literature references from these various characters, before I came upon one that I didn’t have to look up. And that was a reference to The Great Gatsby that most thirteen year olds could have understood.
Along with the heavy literary references, this book revolves around a deep, psychological dissection that is sure to keep even the pickiest reader intellectually satisfied. I found myself asking uncomfortable questions like, “Well, they had no choice, right?” or “Would I have done the same thing?” immediately followed by a, “No, no, no, of course not.” The characters are complex. The events leading up to and following the murder at the center of the plot are puzzling. Donna Tartt’s The Secret History takes the murder mystery to a higher plain.