Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The New Adult Project: "The Secret History" by Donna Tartt

"This is the only story I will ever be able to tell."


Goodreads Summary:

Richard Papen arrived at Hampden College in New England and was quickly seduced by an elite group of five students, all Greek scholars, all worldly, self-assured, and, at first glance, all highly unapproachable. As Richard is drawn into their inner circle, he learns a terrifying secret that binds 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....

***

In the last couple months of working on the New Adult Project, I've read across several "genres." So it's fitting that, in addition to fantasy, science fiction, mystery, and contemporary, I include some more literary fiction. I should add that I didn't choose this book for the purpose of seeking out something "literary" (nor is it the first book in the project that could be called this--I Am the Messenger uses techniques that break the fourth wall, for example.) The reason I point this out is that this book will appeal more to readers of "literary" fiction than to those seeking a quick, fun, plot-centered read. I loved this book, but it is not the sort of book you can devour in a single day. The best way to enjoy this book is by taking your time.

And when you do take your time, you realize just how masterfully Donna Tartt handles the story. She has an incredible talent for creating atmosphere. Take this passage:

"Though, at the time, I found those dinners wearing and troublesome, now I find that something very wonderful in my memory of them: that dark cavern of a room, with vaulted ceilings and a fire crackling in the fireplace, our faces luminous somehow, and ghostly pale. The firelight magnified our shadows, glinted off the silver, flickered high upon the walls; it's reflection roared orange in the windowpanes as if a city were burning outside." (85)

If you're a regular follower of this blog, you might have realized that I don't quote a lot. Sure, I will often mention a writer's talent for prose, but I'm usually too lazy to actually search for a quote. But I would be doing this book a severe disservice if I failed to include a bit of text.

But this book is more than just good prose. Tartt's characters are incredibly well-rounded. You might recognize some stereotypes among the minor characters, but they have personalities and quirks far beyond these typical roles. And as for the primary cast? We start with a group of pretentious intellectuals. Most of them are rich, and they seem to exist in their own bubble of privilege and fantasy. But it is only when they decide to experiment with madness--the ultimate break from reality--that they are forced back into a world of practical concerns, where finances are limited and mistakes actually have consequences.

And it is through these consequences that we start to see just how fucked up all of them are.

***

Full list of "New Adult Project" Reviews

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