The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Pages: 559
Genre: fiction, contemporary


Lessons I learned from this book:

  • The characters are pretentious fucks and very lovable
  • Do not study greek; way too dramatic, too many dead people
  • To be like Richard – always do your homework, no matter how many life-changing secrets was revealed that week
  • The line between romanticizing and actual love is difficult. Both can kill
  • If they strike you as a cult and people talk about them as a cult, you probably should be on guard at least
  • Being the drug-selling jock is better than the rich and self-aware snob because at least you’ve learned how to run a business
  • Twins in books are always freaky, even if I love these ones dearly


Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

My thoughts 


First reaction when finishing this book was simply; no. This book was depressing and overwhelming, making me question every action the characters had taken throughout the book as well as everything else in life (wow it’s turned me dramatic), but it was fucking great. I would recommend it to everyone. Maybe not everyone, I can think of a couple persons who would look at me in horror afterwards. Don’t know what that says about me, but there’s something so special about it; even past the brilliant writing, the murder and the fabulous bonding and group dynamic.

You can read this book two ways, the way I see it. Either as the murder mystery it is, in similar fashion (although this book is older) as “How to get away with murder”, the tv series. It has elements in common when it comes to both structure, it’s a murder mystery in reverse in the sense of it starting with the murder and backtracking from there, as well as both revolves around a group of college kids. The other way too read it would be to dive into it head first AKA seeing it from the character’s perspective, interested in the big philosophy the ancient greek’s are known for for varying reasons. You quickly realize it’s not as much about who killed someone, but why. It’s certainly a question that affects everyone lives, making or breaking their destinies.

There’s lots of characters introduced throughout the book, but the story mainly revolves around the five greek students and their peculiar and charming professor Julian Morrow. He refuses to teach bigger classes, keeps the program closed off from the rest of the school and gets away with it – because that’s how good he is at the subject. No wonder there are rumors about the group, strange and nerdy as they are where they wander around together, occasionally speaking greek or other strange languages, discussing philosophy or other matters of great importance in their world. Mostly they just get drunk off their asses and travels to their mansion of a hideaway out in the country. It’s a good mix.

We hear the story from Richard Papen’s point of view as his poor, pretentious self manages to half-trick half-impress his way into this class and group. He’s the most relatable thing about the book as he struggles with loneliness and distance; it’s just the way he sees the world, constantly watching and thinking, but at least he’s found others like him. The distance he tells the story with terrifies me, even with considering if it’s something he’s picked up after the incidents that shaped his life (I think not). But certainly it makes an interesting fit when it comes to how this story is told, through the eyes of someone so in love with them all, but also more self-aware.

Beauty is terror, according to this book, but it’s also a thing of quite the obsession. At least to Richard Papen. As all of them, he’s messed up, but the aesthetic beauty he values so highly really colors the story and how the characters are perceived. Not that they’re all glorified, more described as the greek gods they study, above everyone else, but certainly with human flaws and a mundane realness as we see them study and frustrate over homework. Just look at how Richard describes his first meeting with the group that would become his friends;

“I was confused by this sudden glare of attention; it was as if the characters in a favorite painting, absorbed in their own concerns, had looked up out of the canvas and spoken to me.”

He wants to figure the world out through studying the greek philisophers as much as he wants to figure out people by studying them. Meeting people who are as guarded and secretive as himself intrigues him, being what creates this story.

I laughed out loud multiple times throughout this book, which is weird because it’s not meant to be humoring. Still, in the way it takes surreal events and makes them real and genuine, there’s something so surprising when you snap out of it and realize what just happened. What you just accepted without questioning because it sounded so natural when told by Richard Papen. What a peculiar mind these guys have, and it was lovely to live through it for a while, even if I’ll stay the hell out of ancient greek studies. I wondered how the book would end, and I still can’t really say formulate what I think about it. If you’ve read the book, please let me know your thoughts.


– favourite quotes – 

“I liked the idea of living in a city—any city, especially a strange one—liked the thought of traffic and crowds, of working in a bookstore, waiting tables in a coffee shop, who knew what kind of odd, solitary life I might slip into? Meals alone, walking the dogs in the evenings; and nobody knowing who I was.”

Forgive me, for all the things I did but mostly for the ones that I did not.”

“In short: I felt my existence was tainted, in some subtle but essential way.”

“He refused to see anything about any of us except our most engaging qualities, which he cultivated and magnified to the exclusion of all our tedious and less desirable ones.”

“I suppose at one time in my life I might have had any number of stories, but now there is no other. This is the only story I will ever be able to tell. “

11 thoughts on “The Secret History by Donna Tartt

  1. Becca | Cozy & Caffeinated February 22, 2018 / 9:12 pm

    Love this review!! I agree with literally everything you said. I’ve never read anything else like this before, so I think I want to try reading The Goldfinch!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. abceptionreads February 22, 2018 / 11:27 pm

    Fantastic review – agree wholeheartedly with your rating, and with your recommendation: after reading it myself, I recommended it to EVERYONE, and forced my best friend (who doesn’t even read) to read it, and he LOVED IT – and proceeded to pass it on to everyone he knew (including his gran).

    Liked by 2 people

    • aquapages // eline February 23, 2018 / 12:24 pm

      Congrats on turning your best friend into a reader! Come to think of it, I should give this to one of my friends who love murder mysteries

      Liked by 1 person

  3. justonemorepaige February 23, 2018 / 12:55 am

    Ok this was a great review! I loved the things that you “learned” from this book. 🙂 And this is on my list to read for this year – I’ve known it’s pretty dark/heavy, but I love that you thought that but still loved the book. Great news for me!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ofthestarssblog February 23, 2018 / 9:07 am

    This is a great review! I have this book for quite some time now. Can’t wait to read it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • aquapages // eline February 23, 2018 / 12:28 pm

      Keep me/the blog posted when you do!

      I’m always very curious about people’s reaction to this book, there’s a lot who love it and some who hate it, maybe because they don’t connect with the characters


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