I picked this one up blind at a used bookstore. Evidently, it is a well -known book and people seem to have strong opinions about it. I'd ostensibly characterize it as a mystery, but the author telegraphs the murder(s), so really "character study" might be more of an accurate description.
A few people accuse the author of belonging to the Jay McInerny school of thinking they and theirs are more important then they probably are. This is a fair criticism. If you, like me, wanted to slap around the writers and directors of "Metropolitan" and "Barcelona" for thinking anyone really gives a damn about their relationships and lack thereof, than this book will induce a familiar sense of deja-vu. Unlike those vehicles, however, this is about murder, so the annoying affectedness of the characters actually serves as a fairly good backdrop to the gravity of the situation.
The Secret History is the story of a small group of classmates at a New England college, in an elite (or, at least, snobbish) group studying the classics and ancient Greek under a "superhuman," aristocratic professor. In their ardor for their studies they undertake a course of extracurricular activities that will lead to killing, and to murder.
The writing is superb, but I was tormented by an inability to distinguish if I hated the main characters because the author wanted me to hate them, or if I hated them because the author actually sympathized with them, and it is fact the author and not her creations that I can't stand.
There is a solution and explanation to the Mystery (as distinguished from the murder mystery) that lies at the core of the book which is straightforwardly presented. But the narrator did not experience it, and hears only one explanation from one of the characters, and a manipulative one at that. There are a number of very subtle hints dropped that the Mystery in fact is quite different than as presented. Subtle enough that I haven't seen any reviewer mention it. If this is Tartt's intention, than the book gains an element of depth that it would otherwise lack. I thought about the implications for several days afterwards, and maybe that, if nothing else, is the mark of a decent book.
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