The Secret History – Donna Tartt

The Secret History is the second book I’ve read by Donna Tart. I read the Pulitzer Prize-winning Goldfinch before; I enjoyed it but thought it was an ordinary novel, far from being an award-winning book. The Secret History was recommended to me by many of my friends. Since I am particularly fond of campus novels, I knew I would love this book more than The Goldfinch.


The Secret History takes place at the highly elite Hampden College. The author described Hampden College so beautifully that I wanted to be one of the characters and study there. The campus environment and the atmosphere she created enabled me to smell new books and hear the rustle of autumn leaves.

The Secret History - Donna Tartt

Even though I liked The Secret History more than The Goldfinch, I couldn’t find the depth I was looking for in Donna Tartt’s books. I thought it was fine when I finished it, but I wished it had been better as it gave me nothing to dwell on. This has become my curse lately. Even if I enjoyed the book I read, if it doesn’t give me more than pleasure, I always feel like that book is incomplete. I expect every book I read to be a classic. I’m making a big mistake.

There were too many details in The Secret History that didn’t add anything to the main story. Instead of these details, I would prefer to read what the students learned about Ancient Greece and how it influenced them to do rites. I found the characters quite successful; I loved some of them easily and hated others. I liked that the author described the characters in detail, from the clothes they wear to the accessories they use. In every section where fountain pens and handwriting are mentioned, I wanted to fill my fountain pens with burgundy ink and write something. I often tempted to create the mood in the book, and I’m glad I saved the reading for autumn.

The Secret History became one of the novels that won my heart mostly because of its atmosphere. Although the main story did not interest me much, I was surprised at the end of the book. If you haven’t read The Secret History yet, don’t dwell on it like me and read it with pleasure. Enjoy!

The Secret History - Donna Tartt

The Secret History

Even though I liked The Secret History: Storytelling in the grand manner, The Secret History is a debut remarkable for its hypnotic erudition and acute psychological suspense, and for the richness of its emotions, ideas, and language. These are the confessions, years afterward, of a young man who found at a small Vermont college the life of privilege and intellect he’d long coveted – and rarely has the glorious experience of youth infatuated with knowledge and with itself been so achingly realized. Then, amazed, Richard Papen is drawn into the ultimate inner circle: five students, worldly and self-assured, selected by a charismatic classics professor to participate in the search for truth and beauty.

Together they study the mysteries of ancient Greek culture and spend long weekends at an old country house, reading, boating, basking in an Indian summer that stretches late into autumn. Mesmerized by his new comrades, Richard is unaware of the crime which they have committed in his dreamy, unwitting presence. But once taken into their confidence, he and the others slowly and inevitably begin to believe in the necessity of murdering the one classmate and friend who might betray both their secret and their future.

Hugely ambitious and compulsively readable, this is a chronicle of deception and complicity, of Dionysian abandon, of innocence corrupted by self-love and moral arrogance; and, finally, it is a story of guilt and responsibility. An astonishing achievement by any standard, The Secret History immediately establishes Donna Tartt as a supremely gifted novelist. 

Donna Tartt

Donna Tartt, in full Donna Louise Tartt, (born December 23, 1963, Greenwood, Mississippi, U.S.), American novelist especially noted for her debut novel, The Secret History (1992), and her third book, The Goldfinch (2013), winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

Tartt grew up in the small town of Grenada, Mississippi. She was a bookish child. When she was only 5 years old, she wrote her first poem, and at 13 years of age, she had a sonnet published. From 1981 to 1982 Tartt attended the University of Mississippi.

Her writing quickly impressed Mississippi writer Willie Morris, who recommended her work to Barry Hannah, then writer in residence at the university. Both men encouraged her to gain wider experience, and in 1982 she transferred to Bennington (Vermont) College (B.A., 1986), where she befriended other budding writers, including Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Lethem, and Jill Eisenstadt. It was there that Tartt began work on her first novel, The Secret History (1992).

Tartt’s much-touted debut novel was set in a fictional Vermont college and was characterized as a “murder mystery in reverse”; the details of the murder were revealed in the early pages of the work. The book was on The New York Times best-seller list for 13 weeks. It was 10 years before Tartt published her eagerly anticipated second work, The Little Friend (2002), which was set in the South and traced the attempt of a 12-year-old girl to avenge the death of her brother. In terms of tone, setting, and plot, the work was almost the antithesis of her first novel. The Little Friend won the WH Smith Literary Award in 2003.

Eleven years after the publication of The Little Friend, The Goldfinch appeared. The title refers to an exquisite 1654 painting—not much bigger than a standard sheet of paper—by the Dutch artist Carel Fabritius (1622–54) that serves as the plot device that drives the story. Many readers found the work to be a significant addition to the literature of trauma and memory and a highly engaging meditation on the power of art. In 2014 the novel won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction.

The jury hailed it as “a beautifully written coming-of-age novel with exquisitely drawn characters that follows a grieving boy’s entanglement with a small famous painting that has eluded destruction, a book that stimulates the mind and touches the heart.

Several critics, however, begged to differ with the Pulitzer jury and the positive reviews by Michiko Kakutani of The New York Times and Stephen King, writing in the Sunday New York Times Book Review. Julie Myerson of The Observer newspaper saw it as “a Harry Potter tribute novel” and a “great, mystifying mess.” Reviewing the novel for The New York Review of Books, writer and critic Francine Prose wondered, “Doesn’t anyone care how something is written anymore?” James Wood of The New Yorker magazine was similarly dismissive.

In addition to winning the Pulitzer, Tartt also received in 2014 the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction for The Goldfinch. A film adaptation of the novel was released in 2019.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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