Monday, March 8, 2010

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

My taste is eclectic, of that I have no doubt. But at times I do wonder about my likes and dislikes more than usual. Almost everyone I know who has read The Secret History has raved about it. They have rated it near the top of their book lists. Respecting those friends' suggestions, I picked up Donna Tartt's first novel and expected to be pulled in and blown away. Maybe that was mistake number one - too much information.

Honestly....
I despised this book!

It was 570 pages of navel gazing. How much self-reflection and psychoanalytic analysis of ones friends is necessary? What about the plot?

To give credit - the book is extremely well-written. Donna Tartt has a strong knowledge of literature and linguistics. She creates deep fully-developed characters. The world in which the characters move is believable and well-depicted. But there's still no plot!

The book revolves around five college friends, all studying ancient Greek. There's a murder. There's a need to cover up a murder. There's another murder. There's 200+ pages of guilt, recrimination, blame, and self-doubt.

I skimmed the last 250 pages because I wanted to be done. I hoped there would be some fascinating novel plot twist to change my opinion. There wasn't. The book got even more depressing and I liked the characters even less than when I started - which isn't saying much.

I had one friend ask if I didn't like it because it was too close to the academic world in which I reside. Maybe. But I sincerely hope that I have no students who spend so much time taking drugs, drinking to excess, and stealing prescription drugs when he can't get ahold of any cocaine. And while college is a period of stark self-reflection, self-doubt, and self-growth I sincerely hope none of my students live such an internal life that he can't see past the end of his nose.

I read the Reader's Guide at the end curious to hear Tartt's explanation of her own story. She's pompous. I'll leave it there.

One of the problems with The Secret History for me was that it read like every other boys' school book out there. Ever seen Dead Poets Society? Read A Separate Peace? Read Gentlemen and Players? Then you have no reason to add The Secret History to your list.

And I apologize to those who loved it. There's no accounting for taste ;-p

3 comments:

hfish said...

Glad to read this. I felt very similarly about the book, and after hearing so many (of the same (; ) recommendations.

Dani said...

Pllt. Loved it. ;) I meant by too close, in that was it just sort of a setting that didn't do anything for you? Since I don't live in the North or near any academic campus maybe it was more novel to me? To you...just another book set in academia that missed the mark?

Like that other person mentioned, I liked the mood. I rarely get a mood from a book like I did reading this.

g.n.a.t. said...

I didn't get a mood from the book other than whiny and self-involved. Sorry.

I think this is one we'll just have to chalk up to differences of opinion. :-)