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The Secret History

Cover of The Secret History

The Secret History

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Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, established herself as a major talent with The Secret History, which has become a contemporary classic.

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 their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
Donna Tartt, winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for her most recent novel, The Goldfinch, established herself as a major talent with The Secret History, which has become a contemporary classic.

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 their lives are changed profoundly and forever, and they discover how hard it can be to truly live and how easy it is to kill.

From the Trade Paperback edition.
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Excerpts-
  • From the book PROLOGUE

    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. He'd been dead for ten days before they found him, you know. It was one of the biggest manhunts in Vermont history—state troopers, the FBI, even an army helicopter; the college closed, the dye factory in Hampden shut down, people coming from New Hampshire, upstate New York, as far away as Boston.

    It is difficult to believe that Henry's modest plan could have worked so well despite these unforeseen events. We hadn't intended to hide the body where it couldn't be found. In fact, we hadn't hidden it at all but had simply left it where it fell in hopes that some luckless passer-by would stumble over it before anyone even noticed he was missing. This was a tale that told itself simply and well: the loose rocks, the body at the bottom of the ravine with a clean break in the neck, and the muddy skidmarks of dug-in heels pointing the way down; a hiking accident, no more, no less, and it might have been left at that, at quiet tears and a small funeral, had it not been for the snow that fell that night; it covered him without a trace, and ten days later, when the thaw finally came, the state troopers and the FBI and the searchers from the town all saw that they had been walking back and forth over his body until the snow above it was packed down like ice.

    *

    It is difficult to believe that such an uproar took place over an act for which I was partially responsible, even more difficult to believe I could have walked through it—the cameras, the uniforms, the black crowds sprinkled over Mount Cataract like ants in a sugar bowl—without incurring a blink of suspicion. But walking through it all was one thing; walking away, unfortunately, has proved to be quite another, and though once I thought I had left that ravine forever on an April afternoon long ago, now I am not so sure. Now the searchers have departed, and life has grown quiet around me, I have come to realize that while for years I might have imagined myself to be somewhere else, in reality I have been there all the time: up at the top by the muddy wheel-ruts in the new grass, where the sky is dark over the shivering apple blossoms and the first chill of the snow that will fall that night is already in the air.

    What are you doing up here? said Bunny, surprised, when he found the four of us waiting for him.

    Why, looking for new ferns, said Henry.

    And after we stood whispering in the underbrush—one last look at the body and a last look round, no dropped keys, lost glasses, everybody got everything?—and then started single file through the woods, I took one glance back through the saplings that leapt to close the path behind me. Though I remember the walk back and the first lonely flakes of snow that came drifting through the pines, remember piling gratefully into the car and starting down the road like a family on vacation, with Henry driving clench-jawed through the potholes and the rest of us leaning over the seats and talking like children, though I remember only too well the long terrible night that lay ahead and the long terrible days and nights that followed, I have only to glance over my shoulder for all those years to drop away and I see it behind me again, the ravine, rising all green and black through the saplings, a picture that will never leave me.

    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.

    BOOK I

    CHAPTER 1

    DOES SUCH a thing as "the...
About the Author-
  • Donna Tartt was born in Greenwood, Mississippi and is a graduate of Bennington College. She is the author of the novels The Goldfinch and The Little Friend, Both of which are international bestsellers

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    September 7, 1992
    Tartt's much bruited first novel is a huge (592 pages) rambling story that is sometimes ponderous, sometimes highly entertaining. Part psychological thriller, part chronicle of debauched, wasted youth, it suffers from a basically improbable plot, a fault Tartt often redeems through the bravado of her execution. Narrator Richard Papen comes from a lower-class family and a loveless California home to the ``hermetic, overheated atmosphere'' of Vermont's Hampden College. Almost too easily, he is accepted into a clique of five socially sophisticated students who study Classics with an idiosyncratic, morally fraudulent professor. Despite their demanding curriculum (they quote Greek classics to each other at every opportunity) the friends spend most of their time drinking and taking pills. Finally they reveal to Richard that they accidentally killed a man during a bacchanalian frenzy; when one of their number seems ready to spill the secret, the group--now including Richard--must kill him, too. The best parts of the book occur after the second murder, when Tartt describes the effect of the death on a small community, the behavior of the victim's family and the conspirators' emotional disintegration. Here her gifts for social satire and character analysis are shown to good advantage and her writing is powerful and evocative. On the other hand, the plot's many inconsistencies, the self-indulgent, high-flown references to classic literature and the reliance on melodrama make one wish this had been a tauter, more focused novel. In the final analysis, however, readers may enjoy the pull of a mysterious, richly detailed story told by a talented writer. 75,000 first printing; BOMC and QPB selections.

  • John Grisham

    "A beautifully written story, well-told, funny, sad, scary, and impossible to leave alone until I finished. . . . What a debut!"

  • The New York Times "Powerful . . . Enthralling . . . A ferociously well-paced entertainment."
  • The Village Voice "An accomplished psychological thriller . . . Absolutely chilling . . . Tartt has a stunning command of the lyrical."
  • Time "A smart, craftsman-like, viscerally compelling novel."
  • New York Newsday "A thinking-person's thriller . . . Think Lord of the Flies, then The Rules of Attraction. . . . The Secret History combines a bit of both--the unmistakable whiff of evil from William Golding's classic and the mad recklessness of priviledged youth from Bret Easton Ellis's novel of the '80s. . . . As stony and chilling as any Greek tragedian ever plumbed."
  • The Boston Globe "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 Philadelphia Inquirer "A long tale of friendship, arrogance, and murder knit together with the finesse that many writers will never have . . . Her writing bewitches us . . . The Secret History is a wonderfully beguiling book, a journey backward to the fierce and heady friendships of our school days, when all of us believed in our power to conjure up divinity and to be forgiven any sin."
  • Cosmopolitan "The great pleasure of the novel is the wonderful complexity and the remarkable skill with which this first novelist spins the tale. And a gruesome tale it is. . . . A great, dense, disturbing story, wonderfully told."
  • Jay McInerney "The Secret History implicates the reader in a conspiracy which begins in bucolic enchantment and ends exactly where it must--though a less gifted or fearless writer would never have been able to imagine such a rich skein of consequence. Donna Tartt has written a mesmerizing and powerful novel."
  • The Washington Post Book World "Donna Tartt has invested this simple and suspenseful plot with a considerable amount of atmosphere and philosophical significance. . . . She's a very good writer indeed."
  • The Virginian Pilot & Ledger-Star "A glorious achievement . . . The Secret History is a grand read--an artful blend of intelligence, entertainment, and suspense that quickens the pulse."
  • Vogue "Beautifully written, suspenseful from start to finish."
  • Houston Chronicle "One of the best American college novels to come along since John Knowles's A Seperate Peace. . . . Immensely entertaining."
  • The Miami Herald "Donna Tartt is clearly a gifted writer. . . . The cadence of her sentences, the authority with which she shaped 500-plus pages of an erudite page-turner indicate she has the ability to leave her literary contemporaries standing in the road. . . . The decision to murder has about it the inevitability of classical Greek tragedy."
  • Glamour "Donna Tartt has a real shot at becoming her generation's Edgar Allan Poe. . . . The Secret History pulses like a telltale heart on steroids."
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    Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
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