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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.

Critic Reviews

"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 Ratings

Overall

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,582
  • 4 Stars
    1,140
  • 3 Stars
    636
  • 2 Stars
    232
  • 1 Stars
    147

Performance

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,250
  • 4 Stars
    839
  • 3 Stars
    548
  • 2 Stars
    263
  • 1 Stars
    293

Story

  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • 5 Stars
    1,509
  • 4 Stars
    898
  • 3 Stars
    488
  • 2 Stars
    182
  • 1 Stars
    115
Sort by:
  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Ann
  • Orefield, PA, United States
  • 03-06-11

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.

44 of 45 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Treachery on Campus!

Any additional comments?

This is the 2nd time I've "read" The Secret History (the first time I actually read it). I had to go back and listen to it again because I remember being entranced by the relationship of the main characters. Well, it was even better the 2nd time around. The story lets you know at the very beginning that one of them dies, but the book isn't really about that -- it's about what happens to people after they've committed a horrendous act and they have to live with it. The knowledge that they can't go back and un-do the past. And how it binds them together forever. One person may be dead, but the others will live with the regret for the rest of their lives.

20 of 21 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • KP
  • United States
  • 07-03-08

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.

140 of 158 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    2 out of 5 stars

Terrible narrator, depressing story, slow plot

A friend gifted me this book and warned me that it was weird. I'm having a hard time finding nice things to say about it though. I wanted to like it but right off the bat, the narrator was awful. Her speech patterns and inflection combined with a kind of unusual accent made it hard to focus on the story at the beginning. I hated the voice she used for Bunny so much, every time she used it, I felt myself cringe. Eventually though, like with most audiobooks, I got used to her voice and accent but there really wasn't enough of a delicious story in there to save the book for me.

The author clearly has a deep knowledge of Greek and the classics but since I lack enough knowledge or interest in the subject, I found some of the more academic passages rather tedious. I nodded off more than once listening.

The plot develops so painfully slowly that it wasn't until the book was at least half way finished that I felt like I could even tell someone what it was about. Most of the characters I found unlikable to the point of being annoyed by them. Of the few characters I did have an affinity for, the author reveals some perversions about them that I found made me stop caring about them. I felt like there was ample space to develop deep meaningful friendships and hinge the story on that dynamic but instead the author chose a route that left me not really caring what happened to anyone since their interpersonal relationships with each other started getting uncomfortably awkward.

The story is told from the point of view of one of the characters and his cowing to a stronger personality and his constant sleeping and drinking as he struggled to cope made me stop liking him or really caring what happened to him. In fact, he was never really one of the group and I felt that his outsider status made his decision to protect his friends seem stupid, foolish, and illogical. Once he bought into the plan developed by the strongest personality in the group, I found myself wondering why he'd even consider such a course of action for people he never really fit in with very well. I felt like the course of action the characters take to fix their problems was inanely stupid for such a smart group of people. Without giving too much away for someone that might want to give this book a go, toward the end, the way things fall apart just left me feeling depressed and hoping it would soon be over.

One of my biggest pet peeves is a story that doesn't have a definite ending. While this one does have an ending, I still found it completely dissatisfying. I felt like the author backed herself into a corner with the ending. The way the author handled Henry ended up being predictably dull because as she developed him through the plot, she began robbing him of his trademark cool poise and arrogant self-confidence that should have been traits that propelled him toward a more interesting conclusion.

Finally, I found myself having trouble in my mind rectifying the time period in which the story was set. It seemed to me at first that the story was set much further in the past based on the descriptions provided by the author. However the author then begins to reference more recent events leaving me feel like there was a disjointedness between the time period I felt like the narrative descriptions revealed and the more modern events the author references. It gave the book an awkward feeling for me.

Overall, I made it through the book but I didn't have that yearning to get back to it when I was away from it. My recommendation is that you skip this one. While it isn't the worst book I've listened to, I don't have any desire to seek out additional works by this author based on this first experience with her. I found myself looking forward to finishing it just so I could start something more interesting. There are better books than this one upon which to spend your credit. My advice is to skip this one.

13 of 14 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Roslyn
  • Whitehorse, Yukon, Canada
  • 09-11-07

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.

33 of 37 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • AJ
  • 07-27-09

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.

101 of 116 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
  • JoAnn
  • Boston, MA, United States
  • 10-27-14

A little dark, but a great character study

If you're familiar with Donna Tartt's work (notably, last year's Pulitzer Prize winner, Goldfinch), you will not be shocked to hear that this is a well-written, but darker read. Ms. Tartt loves to explore the lives of vulnerable coming-of-agers placed in situations which challenge and eventually change them. This story is no different as the reader/listener is introduced to Richard, a young man completely out of place in the very "yah" environment of an elite liberal arts college in New England. He falls in with a group of peers within his cult-ish Ancient Greek program and enters a world of privilege, literary elitism, and, eventually, murder.

The story follows one year of his studies at the university and deals with how each character internalizes/externalizes their crime, from Richard's perspective. Ms. Tartt's writing is simply marvelous and her ability to capture experiences from the mundane (removing a pair of glasses) to the general (sights, scents, schedule of a college student) to the hypothetical (what is the perfect crime?) to the paranoid (are you hiding something from me?) takes the reader out of his/her reality and into the life of Richard and his peers.

On the downside, I simply didn't like many of the characters. They were, frankly, people I would have avoided in college. It became a little hard to lose yourself in the story when you truly weren't rooting for anyone.

Additionally, while I HATE to dissuade other authors from taking on the task of narrating their own novels, I have become accustomed to professionals and found it somewhat distracting hearing a southern woman read the roles of males. Furthermore, some of her "voices" changed my impression of the characters (notably, a fatherly character for whom she adopted an almost coquettish, high-pitched voice more appropriate for a 5-year-old girl or dying grandmother), in ways that did not correspond to their characters' roles.

5 of 5 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

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.

22 of 25 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    1 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars

Intriguing story, unfortunate narration.

How could the performance have been better?

She could have hired an actor to narrate the book.

Any additional comments?

Even though the story was intriguing the narration was not. I can not comprehend why Donna Tartt would narrate her own book, her voice could be shrill and annoying at times. I could also hear what sounded like street noises in the background, did she record the audio in her livingroom?

45 of 53 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • John
  • Columbia, TN, United States
  • 03-06-10

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.

38 of 45 people found this review helpful