Book Talk: The Secret History

9:00:00 PM

Does such a thing as 'the fatal flaw,' that showy dark crack running down the middle of a life, exist outside literature? I used to think it didn't. Now I think it does. And I think that mine is this: a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs.

Much of why I was so drawn to this book can be summed up by the above quote. This story, built around the murder of a college student (not a spoiler, since it's mentioned in the first sentence of the prologue), isn't a whodunit - that part's obvious. Instead, it's about why - an exploration of those fatal flaws that make life and literature so completely fascinating.

As the story begins, a small town student is drawn, inevitably, to a mysterious elitist group who spend their time studying the classics. As their worlds become increasingly intertwined, it becomes clear that their lives are far from simple, and so are their reasons for murdering their classmate and friend.

Richard's involvement in the course of events is that of someone on the outside looking in, but also of someone who in inextricably intertwined in them. His self-proclaimed desire for the picturesque results in a great deal of rose-colored images of Henry, Charles, Camilla, and Julian, which makes it difficult to fully understand or get to know these characters. 

If you're looking for a book with characters to whom you will relate, this isn't it. This novel isn't intended to resonate on a personal level, with an admittedly manipulative narrator who keeps us at arms length, retelling a story that took places years before, and idealizing that period of his life, and the people he came to know during it.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love an unreliable narrator, and The Secret History definitely has that going for it. If anything, the distance created between the reader and this mysterious, erudite cast of characters only served to pull me in deeper, as I desperately sought out details, moments where a character would slip and reveal something significant. It was satisfying to feel so engrossed by a novel, and while I realize that this kind of narrative style isn't for everyone, I certainly enjoyed it. 

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2 comments

  1. I really, really loved The Secret History and totally agree about the eerie mystery. I read it just before I picked up The Goldfinch and ended up loving both.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks for reading! I'm glad you commented - I've been trying to decide if I want to read The Goldfinch since I liked The Secret History so much but now it's decided!

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