The Secret History by Donna Tartt

 

The best word I can think of to describe this book is mesmerizing. You know from the very first page that the narrator and his friends will kill someone during the course of the story – you even know who the victim is and how he dies. But that didn’t stop me from reading this book as fast as I could, trying to absorb every word. It’s now one of my favorite books  ever – I’ve read it at least five times, and every time I reread it I find something new to love about it.

A truly gifted author can create the most unappealing character possible and still draw the audience to his/her side. Donna Tartt does exactly this with her main character, Richard, who is far from a good person. He lies frequently and well, and over the course of his narration will often mention being completely drunk or doing lines of cocaine in a matter-of-fact tone, with absolutely no shame. His five friends, all Greek scholars at an elite private college, are just like him. The six main characters of this story are not good people, and that does not bother them. That’s probably what makes them, and their story, so incredibly fascinating.

Here’s one of my favorite quotes from the book, and it sort of sums up the entire point of the story:
“The Greeks were different. They had a passion for order and symmetry, much like the Romans, but they knew how foolish it was to deny the unseen world, the old gods. Emotion, darkness, barbarism…Do you remember what we were speaking of earlier, how bloody, terrible things are sometimes the most beautiful? It’s a very Greek idea, and a very profound one. Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we quiver before it. And what could be more terrifying and beautiful, to souls like the Greeks or our own, than to lose control completely? To throw off the chains of being for an instant, to shatter the accident of our moral selves? Euripides speaks of the Maenads: head thrown back, throat to the stars, ‘more like deer than human being.’ To be absolutely free! One is quite capable, of course, of working out these destructive passions in more vulgar and less efficient ways. But how glorious to release them in a single burst! To sing, to scream, to dance barefoot in the woods in the dead of night, with no more awareness of mortality than an animal! These are poweful mysteries. The bellowing of bulls. Springs of honey bubbling from the ground. If we are strong enough in our souls that we can rip away the veil and look that naked, terrible beauty right in the face; let God consume us, devour us, unstring our bones. Then spit us out reborn.”

Verdict: five out of five stars

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