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The Gator

The student news site of Brimmer and May School | Chestnut Hill, MA

The Gator

The student news site of Brimmer and May School | Chestnut Hill, MA

The Gator

Book Review: A Secret History

Old key in a keyhole

Since 2022, The Secret History by Donna Tartt has made itself known through social media, book groups, and other online reviews. A modern classic, Tartt weaves a tale so complex that it leaves the reader thinking about the ending for days.

Following Richard Papen, a student studying classics at the fictional Hampden College in Vermont, the story twists and turns as he struggles through mental and physical problems.

Murder, money, and the lives of young adults captivate the audience in this riveting book.

Told from an older Richard’s perspective, the ordinary life of a small, tight-knit group unfolds into an adventure, one that takes more from its occupants than it gives. Bunny, Henry, Charles, Camilla, Francis, and Richard learn from an eccentric, wealthy professor who’s teaching a dying subject: classics.

This theme is consistent throughout the book, providing reasoning behind some of the more extreme actions taken by the young adults to keep a secret.

Realistic human emotions such as longing, jealousy, innateness for people-pleasing, and insecurity are represented through the protagonist, a factor that is very important for an immersive read.

This book is categorized as a mystery novel, but it seems more like psychological fiction. The reader spends more of the book figuring out whether

Richard’s recounting of the events of his life is reliable, introducing a whole new level of mystique. When he finally feels included in the friend group of his dreams, he realizes that not everything is as it seems.

Are his friends really what they seem, and how far will they go to keep a secret?

This is an “I will stay up reading until 2 a.m.” book. It’s almost physically impossible to set it down, and when put away, it leaves the reader thinking and theorizing more and more.

As a many-layered story, you can’t just read it once. To fully comprehend the amount of what’s going on, a second read-through would be helpful.

Though the buildup is long and drawn out, the ending is abrupt and everything happens a bit too quickly.

For all of the months that Richard and his friends spent meticulously planning and weaving their web of lies to a T, the whole thing collapses a bit too easily.

Of course, this could be interpreted as young people’s emotions running high under pressure, though it just seems a bit too quick to be a satisfactory finish.

On TikTok for (maybe) the past year, the book has gained lots of traction. It’s become incredibly popular for book lovers, and for a while, I couldn’t understand why it was sweeping across the internet.

But now, it makes me wonder; are there other books out there that are just as good that deserve to be talked about?

The Secret History is a book that is perfect for discussions, and it’s no astonishment that everyone is talking about it. Tartt’s thrilling story is perfect for a not-too-long, but still intellectual and controversial read. 

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About the Contributor
Polly Zimmerman
Polly Zimmerman, Journalist
Penelope has been a student at Brimmer for four years. Outside of school, she enjoys baking, reading, listening to music, and talking with her friends.

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  • Amanda EppersNov 14, 2023 at 1:16 pm

    Nice review Polly! Having gone to Bennington, the college “Hampton” is based on, 30 plus years ago when the book was published, it’s lovely to see Donna’s book re-surface with such an interest.