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The Secret History | [Donna Tartt]

The Secret History

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.
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Publisher's Summary

The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.

In this brilliant debut novel, Donna Tartt gives us a richly textured and hypnotic story of golden youth corrupted by its own moral arrogance.

Richard Papen had never been to New England before his 19th year. Then he arrived at Hampeden College and quickly became seduced by the sweet, dark rhythms of campus life - in particular by an elite group of five students; Greek scholars, worldly, self-assured, and at first glance, highly unapproachable.

Yet as Richard was accepted and drawn into their inner circle, he learned a terrifying secret that bound them to one another; a secret about an incident in the woods in the dead of night where an ancient rite was brought to brutal life...and led to a gruesome death. And that was just the beginning.

©2002 Donna Tartt; (P)2002 HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.

What the Critics Say

"A mysterious, richly detailed story told by a talented writer." (Publishers Weekly)
"An enthralling story....The Secret History is addictive. Chances are you won't be able to listen just once." (AudioFile)
"Powerful....Enthralling....A ferociously well-paced entertainment." (The New York Times)
"Tartt's voice is unlike that of any of her contemporaries. Her beautiful language, intricate plotting, fascinating characters, and intellectual energy make her debut by far the most interesting work yet from her generation." (The Boston Globe)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

3.9 (923 )
5 star
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4.0 (631 )
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Story
3.7 (640 )
5 star
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4 star
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3 star
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2 star
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1 star
 (60)
Performance
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  •  
    John Columbia, TN, United States 03-06-10
    John Columbia, TN, United States 03-06-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Not everyone's glass of Scotch Neat"

    If I had known Bunny in high school, he would have never made it to college. I would have already killed him and his annoying leeching ways before any ACT or SATS. I thought the book was well written and was easy to follow. However, the clique of scholars was annoying, and drank like a UT fraternity during Greek Week…. but they did it daily. That would explain the lack of brain cells that made these Greek scholars refer so often to Dante, an Italian writer. The narrator did not annoy me as she has some others. She created the characters and I feel she knew what their voice should be. This one is one you either like or hate. All of its faults considered, I liked it.

    22 of 24 people found this review helpful
  •  
    KP United States 07-03-08
    KP United States 07-03-08 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
    201
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    5
    Overall
    "Read this, don't listen"

    The narrator's (author's) voice ruined this one for me. The story was interesting and well-researched if rather farfetched. However, I couldn't get past the fact that neither voice nor accent matched who the characters were supposed to be. I'd read it, not listen to it.

    45 of 50 people found this review helpful
  •  
    joyce san clemente, CA, United States 03-17-14
    joyce san clemente, CA, United States 03-17-14 Member Since 2011

    Greedy, voracious reader since age five. After a number of eye injuries & surgeries, reading is hard. So now, I listen.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "A great beginning"

    This was a fascinating story, told in rich detail, about kids murdering to cover up a murder. The author was skilled enough that I felt the growing paranoia among the protagonists spread to my mind; I began to doubt what I thought I knew of the characters. Who was lying? Was someone setting up someone else? Who was sleeping with who? Plots seemed to grow within plots, and I was fascinated. And then the end came. An argument, a shot, they all go live their lives. WHAT?! Donna Tartt seems to have had a great idea for a novel, but no good ending. I felt really let down and annoyed.
    Also, she's a pretty lackluster reader.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Jason Charlotte, NC, United States 11-07-12
    Jason Charlotte, NC, United States 11-07-12 Member Since 2012
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    9
    9
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    Story
    "I liked this a lot more when I was 19."

    I bought this book because I enjoyed it so much when I read it 20 years ago. Maybe listening to it now was a mistake, since I already had a good idea of what was going to happen.
    The characters go on my nerves - I thought they were cool, decadent characters when I initially read the book. Now they seem like a bunch of kids who drink too much and nose into each other's business too much - especially the main character. He really got on my nerves toward the end of the book. He loved nothing more than to whine about his friend's erratic behavior. He was a busybody who bothered people when they didn't want to hear him run his mouth. The narrator is pretty monotone, and this added to this character's irritating characteristics. She made him sound like a snob on valium. These kids are a bunch of spoiled brats and they may get on your nerves by the time you reach the end of this book - especially if you have your act together.
    The story line is pretty clever. If you have not read this book, give it a shot (especially if you are under 30 - this book is centered on a artsy/Bohemian college atmosphere). You may really like it - I did when I read it the first time. The narration is not fantastic, but this shouldn't stop you from giving it a shot if you have not read it already. I was a little tough on the main characters in this review, but it's quite possible I've simply outgrown it and moved on. This book still had its moments.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ann Orefield, PA, United States 03-06-11
    Ann Orefield, PA, United States 03-06-11 Member Since 2010

    vballannie

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Addictive"

    One of the few books I've listened to that I really couldn't stop listening! Very different from what I expected and not at all the typical murder mystery. The tragedy of murder is heightened by the fact that it is done by the protagonists. The story is not so much about the murder(s) but rather the emotional and psychological effects on the murderers.

    My only complaint is that, because this is an audiobook, some of the foreign language phrases were hard to understand or even try to translate (sometimes none was given). I do much better if I can see the words rather than hear them, and, if so driven, I could have looked up the meanings. So I may have lost some of the intricacies of the story during these moments.

    11 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amanda USA 07-27-09
    Amanda USA 07-27-09 Member Since 2008

    1badgeek

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Can't get past the narrator"

    It doesn't seem to ever be a good idea to read your own work. I took a chance, and just couldn't listen to this. The narration is so off-putting as to be distracting (to me, anyway). An interesting premise that might have been a good story, but I just couldn't get past the presentation.

    45 of 53 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Catherine west orange, NJ, United States 09-11-10
    Catherine west orange, NJ, United States 09-11-10 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    Overall
    "compelling, dark and (in parts) funny"

    I liked this audiobook much more than I expected to - in fact I just finished listening to it a second time. I've read THE SECRET HISTORY as a book and was doubtful about having the author doing the narration: in my experience, there are good readers and good writers and not many people who are both. Donna Tartt is one of those few. Her natural accent is engaging in the descriptive passages, and she makes the different characters voices in dialogue distinguishable without resorting to violent changes in pitch and pattern. A couple of her character voices (Bunny and Julian) are a smidge over-drawn, but it's not distracting because although they are both major characters, they have among the fewest lines of dialog.

    And that brings me to what I like so much about the way the book is written. Its absent influences are really compelling (Richard's parents, for example, and Leo the landlord) are significant players whom we never actually meet. They're described, and they're quoted in the third person, but they never appear to speak for themselves. This literary device is rarely sucessful, but as Donna Tartt deploys it, it works a treat.

    Similarly, the unreliable narrator -- Richard -- is compelling. Again, this device is tricky and often transparent, but Tartt works it skilfully.

    The majority of the novel is dark-ish and thinky, but there are a couple passges that are laugh out loud funny: the feral cat on the long car ride, for example, and the "test your illicit drug knowledge" game show scene. Dark humor indeed. Those bits might not be to everyone's taste, but they had me laughing helplessly.

    I could nitpick -- there are a few asides in foreign languages that aren't translated, and that's annoying as heck, and the novel ends about four times (just when you think it's done there's another coda, and that goes on for about 20 minutes) and these quibbles cost the book a star. Overall, though, I think this one's well worth your time and credit.

    12 of 14 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Charlene Seattle, WA, United States 02-23-10
    Charlene Seattle, WA, United States 02-23-10 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "good but not great story; appalling narration"

    The story is a little bit Heathers, a little bit The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. Reminded me a great deal of Special Topics in Calamity Physics. Unlike the narrator in Calamity Physics, though, there's no suggestion that this character is a genius - and yet, we are expected to believe that with only 2 years of non-exclusive Greek language study, he has read not only ALL of Plato in Greek, but a wide array of other classical literature. It would have been forgivable, I think, had the narration not been so absolutely godawful. The voice of Bunny is a high pitched nasal whine, like a voice someone would make while mimicking someone annoying and ineffectual. Everyone else sounds more or less alike - slightly nasal, with hints of a southern accent. I'm on the fence about whether I'd recommend this. The story is interesting, although some of the details are pretty unbelievable. But the narration is grating, at best.

    16 of 19 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Roslyn Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada 09-11-07
    Roslyn Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada 09-11-07 Member Since 2006

    I absolutely love audiobooks. There is simply nothing like having someone read you an engrossing story; not to mention you can get things done while you listen. I always have one on the go.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "wonderful interpersonal relationships"

    This book was just superb. The story was extremely strong and engrossing. If, like me, you are a murder mystery fan but appreciate a long in depth story with good character development and realistic human relationships this book is for you.

    18 of 22 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Chuck Pompano beach, FL, USA 06-01-09
    Chuck Pompano beach, FL, USA 06-01-09
    HELPFUL VOTES
    25
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    "Tough one to get through."

    The author is a terrible reader. It was a constant challenge to remember that the main character was supposed to be a young man. Listening to Donna Tartt read this book drove me crazy and I finished it only because a friend had recommended the book and I wanted to get to the end of it. It was an overlong story about a group of drug addicted alcoholics.

    22 of 28 people found this review helpful
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