The Secret History: a haunting thriller by Donna Tartt

I am in the midst of refurbishing my flat. As part of this dust-ridden and paintflecked process I had to box up my possessions. I stupidly thought, ‘it’s a one-bed flat, how long can it take?’ Apparently days. I have a worrying number of books.

Anyway, the beautiful outcome of this was that I came across my battered copy of The Secret History; its creased pages and pencilled notes an indication of the many times it has been read. So this week I am saluting The Favourite Read.

What is it all about?

The Secret History is a tale of two murders committed by a close-knit group of classicists, studying at a college in Vermont.

Composed a bit like a modern-day Greek tragedy, the ‘who and what’ of the murder is revealed from the outset, which means you are immediately plunged into the ‘how and why’ and become seemingly complicit in a world bound by secrets.

It is a haunting, relentless and exquisitely descriptive psychological thriller set against the alcohol-fuelled, angst-laden backdrop of youthful self-discovery and college life.

Is it worth the read?

I can’t deny that when I was first recommended this book – a story which revolves around a group of insular, not entirely likeable, fiercely intelligent classicists, who head off to the woods to recreate a Dionysiac ritual, are discovered and then, in their altered states of mind, commit murder well, I thought it might be a challenging story to fully engage with.

But Tartt’s writing is such that you don’t question it, you accept it. And as the group are forced to commit murder again to cover their tracks, you bear witness to the unravelling of each protagonist.

This is an intensely vivid and compelling read; the crisp, penetrating tone, the nuanced descriptions of human behaviour and social interactions, the calculated and controlled development of characters. It is the sort of book you devour.

And that is why it ranks as one of my top five books, what’s yours?


The Secret History – Donna Tartt, Penguin; ISBN: 9780140167771

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Caroline Woodward-Court

Caroline is Khoollect's resident book reviewer. This lady has had her noses in books since she can r...

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