I first read The Secret History twelve years ago when one of my very best friends from college sent me the book for my birthday. Since then, it has become one of the books I read over and over again. Recently, Audible had a sale featuring ten editors who picked ten books apiece. The Secret History was one of those books, and I was very excited about the opportunity to experience one of my favorite books in a new medium.
The Secret History is Donna Tartt’s first book. One could argue that it is a mystery, but what makes things interesting is that it is not really a whodunit. We know who killed Bunny- narrator Richard and his friends are responsible- but the mystery lies in why they felt that they had no choice but to kill Bunny.
At the beginning of the novel, Richard Papen arrives at Hampden College. This small liberal arts college in Vermont provides him with a wholly different experience than his less than idyllic childhood in California. He finds his way into the good graces of a small group of Greek students. Henry, Francis, Bunny, and twins Charles and Camilla don’t have a lot in common with Richard- aside from the Greek connection- but he is grateful for their friendship and acceptance.
On the surface, this small group seems to be perfect. But they are harboring secrets. When things become too terrible to bear, they tell Richard what they have been hiding, and that they have no choice other than to kill Bunny.
The story begins with Bunny’s murder, but it does not end with the murder. After this band of friends has finished their terrible deed, they must live with the aftermath of what they have done. While some of them remain stoic and unflappable, others struggle. Is it the weight of what they have done? Perhaps it is the stereotypically guilty conscience. The tension increases, and threatens to destroy everything they have worked so hard to conceal.
I would absolutely recommend The Secret History. At just over 550 pages (in my edition), this is not a quick read. The audiobook clocks in at 22 hours of listening time. Donna Tartt serves as narrator, and she reads her own book with a slow and meandering pace. This is a story that you may not want to put down, eagerly anticipating what might happen next. But this is a story that should be savoured, and I am looking forward to reading it again- as soon as I catch up with my reading list!