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frankie

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

What did you think of the book?  

11 members have voted

  1. 1. What did you think of the book?

    • 5/5 - l loved it
      8
    • 4/5 - I really liked it
      2
    • 3/5 - I enjoyed it
      1
    • 2/5 - It was okay but nothing special
      0
    • 1/5 - I hated it
      0


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Thanks for that link, CB...I'll save it for later.

 

 

Still about a third of the way through.  Will finish this month! :D

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I read it some years ago now and loved it but so much has faded from my mind. I think that's because it's quite detailed .. lots and lots to take in. I did remember about the bacchanal but have to agree with frankie that the group seemed capable of killing just for the thrill of seeing if they could get away with it. 

I was thinking about this the other day, and I feel like Bunny was only upset about the bacchanal and the events because he was excluded. Had he been with the others, and been there when the man was killed, he would've agreed to do just like the others decided and did: kept quiet about it. I think his wanting to tell people about what the others had done was just his way of punishing them for not including him in the bacchanal.

 

I know it's been done before but I loved the way the story started with a prologue giving us a brief outline of Bunny's murder .. it meant that you knew what was coming and so gave an extra edge to everything the group did ... the tension was there from the beginning and it just escalated right up to the death and beyond into the search and enquiry. Probably my favourite part was the search .. knowing that Bunny was there hidden under the snow but that the thaw would come and he'd be discovered. You knew about the murder but didn't know what the outcome would be ... whether the group would be found out etc so that all made it extra tense.

I agree. Usually I don't prefer this sort of technique, because it makes me wonder if the author doesn't believe s/he is otherwise able to hold the interest of the readers; if s/he feels s/he needs to say it right in the beginning so that readers will want to read on. That is, however, just a very theoretical musing of mine, because that sort of prologue has worked, and I can't deny it :D

 

I'd quite forgotten that the book starts with the prologue, though. But it does make you want to know what happened, and it does make the reader start the novel with a gasp. It builds tension.

 

 

As this was a reread for me i already knew how things worked out with Julian so i disliked him right from the beginning but i think the first time i read it i didn't feel that he was a bad person till the very end when he shows his true colours. He isolated the group from the rest of the college making them solely dependent on him for their education & emotional welfare & then when he finds out what they've done he just deserts them & quite literally runs away with devastating consequences especially for Henry. To me he seemed like a very shallow person with only superficial charm & no real substance to him.... a Skindeep ..... as the Stranglers would say & a coward.

I agree: it was a re-read for me, too, and the first time I read the book I liked Julian just fine until the end where he deserts the group, as you said. I don't think I found it all that odd, or rather, inexcusable, the first time I read the book, that he would want to be the only professor his students go to for education and any other sort of guidance. It was almost 10 years ago when I read the book and I was young enough to think that maybe it was some special educational strategy of his.

 

Why do you guys think that he wanted to be so very exclusive? What was the point to all that? Was it so as to make sure there weren't any students that questioned his teachings, his methods? Did he want to be God-like, too?

 

I was really surprised after i'd read The Little Friend to hear that so many disliked it as i enjoyed it so much. I think again for me it was the characters that made the book, initially i disliked Harriet but as the book went on i really started to admire her strength of character & tenacity she really did have a horrible homelife. Also there's some great scenes in it that i still remember but i wont mention them as i don't want to spoil the story. Some books you can enjoy but then you forget plot lines etc.after awhile but i can still remember lots of TLF & it's definitely up there in my Top Ten favourite books, I gave away my copy but wish i hadn't now as i would like to read it again I hope you'll give it another chance Frankie. :D

Yes, Tartt is wonderful with characters, but for me the problem with TLF was that it was so long and I feared nothing much was going to happen, and then when I read a few reviews saying that the ending was rushed or that there isn't really an all too clear explanation to things, I thought I wouldn't want to waste my time with the book. I do remember the premise of the book, or at least I think I do, so that's a positive... Because it was really intriguing!

 

I don't know... I guess... I guess I could say that I won't say 'never' to the book, anymore... But I won't promise I'll read it! :D Although you've made me very curious about it now... :lol:

 

 

I have to say my only experience of boarding schools is reading Enid Blyton books to my youngest daughter & i don't think they're all that realistic but the thought of sending any of my children away to school & only seeing them at the holidays makes me feel ill. I know when we took our eldest to her accomodation with all her stuff when she went to Uni it was really hard to leave her there & i think i was more worried about it than her.

I don't think I've read any Enid Blyton books where there are boarding schools, so I can't say if they are realistic or not, but I can at least say that the times have changed a lot from those days. I would guess the people who run the boarding schools don't have the means to be as disciplinary as before and I think kids are wilder these days, so I think the modern boarding school experience must be very different from the experience all those decades ago.

 

 

 

Still about a third of the way through. Will finish this month! :D

Great, I look forward to your thoughts! :)

 

Edited by frankie

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I wasn't sure about him and Julian either, I suspected they were close at times too.  He also gave me the impression that maybe he was on the asperger scale too as he was so intelligent and single minded.

Yes, there was that unexpected kiss on the cheek, witnessed by Richard. That through me off, I did wonder if Henry was in some sort of physical relationship with Julian. I wondered about it even during my re-read, because I didn't remember what was the case from the first read!

 

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

 

Hmm, I'm not sure, the first third I struggled with a little but once I got into into it more and spent more time reading it I thoroughly enjoyed it all. The chapter leading up to Bunny's death was probably one of the best pieces of writing I have read in a while.  I thought the Epilogue was pretty stunning and unusually relevant too.

I'm really glad you enjoyed the book in the end, I remember you struggling at one point.

 

 

 

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

 

The academic writing, it was all greek to me! :D

:D Greek! :D

 

 

I liked Julian! (Though I normally find out the characters I like are the baddies!  :o ) I found Julian to be a gentle soul, completely absorbed by his love of his work and his students. I was only a little disappointed towards the end of the story when he found out the truth. I would have predicted he would do something, i'm not sure what, but it was a weak ending to that part of the story I felt..

I believe you are the first person to say that you liked Julian! :) Yes, I do admire him for being so passionate about his work, it was really a lifestyle for him, doing it all free of charge, too. But otherwise I didn't find him all that personable.

 

 

I think in a fictional world the idea of dorms, sports teams and midnight feasts is wonderful but I know from friends that in reality it wasn't always so good, cold dorms, dictatorial teachers, no peace and quiet etc etc..

Cold dorms, dictatorial teachers, and having no peace and quiet doesn't sound very tempting. I wonder if anyone actually likes living in dorms. And if the picture we get of dorms from the movies and books is so unrealistic, why do we romantizice living in dorms / boarding schools? And why do the movies and books sometimes romantizice dorms / boarding schools?

 

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To start the discussion, here are some basic questions to discuss, courtesy of BCF (feel free to answer all or only the ones you want):

1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked?

I can't think of one character that I actually liked.  Some were less culpable than others, that was really the only distinction for me. 

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

After about half way through the book, it really picked up for me.  I thought the section on the search for Bunny was well done, and his funeral really tore my heart out......especially the description of his father's outbursts.  Tartt really out did herself there. 

Also the letter that Bunny had written to Julian, when they found out about it, and the following finagling to try to get it back, and the ultimate, when Julian saw the hotel letterhead.

3- Did you like the writing?

Absolutely, yes!  I didn't realize it, but Tartt is from a town about 230 miles from my location.  Fertile, Southern Gothic country. :)

4- Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

No, it is the second.   I read The Goldfinch late last year, and enjoyed it as well.

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

I'm not sure exactly how you mean struggle with.  The characters hubris was astounding to me, coupled along with their total selfishness and total sense of entitlement.  But it is not difficult for me to believe the characters, at all. 

6- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

Yes. Definitely.

*

7. What did you think of Julian? So far the first readers have described him as manipulative and a fraud. What is it about him that might rub you the wrong way? And if you did like Julian, we would love to hear your thoughts on him in that respect, too!

I never trusted him, a bit.  The whole time I had a sense of his superficiality, and wish not to become involved personally with the students.  Which was in a way a contradiction to his teaching method.  But then I realized that he was suffering from the same hubris as his students, in fact he fostered it in them. 

I loved the different opinions that were given by George Orwell and another name I can't recall at the moment, toward the end.  Wonderful.  It confirmed all I'd thought. 

 

 

8. As the theme was boarding schools, I'm interested in knowing if we have anyone on here who has been to a boarding school or who has lived on campus while studying at a university? The book is from the very early 90s, so it's a bit dated, but does the descriptions of the campus life ring true? Is it credible?

And you others, you non-boarding school people: do you find the idea of boarding schools interesting/fascinating? Would you like to have been able to live on a campus? What is it about campus life that is so fascinating to you?

I've never been drawn to that sort of life, even when it would have been natural to have been.  I guess I've always been a homebody. :) 

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frankie wrote: A few of us have now mentioned Julian was not a likable character and that he came across as an old fraud, manipulative etc. When I started reading the book, I didn't remember what the deal was with Julian, but I had this idea that there was something fishy about him. And that he might've actually been a part of the whole group thing, when it came to the bacchanal and the murder. So I was a bit surprised when I was reading the novel and found it wasn't so. So this way I actually tolerated Julian a whole lot more this second time.

 

I'm curious: what was it about him that is so fishy? Should he have gone to the police?

 

 

Of course he should have gone to the police, but he didn't want anything to reflect on his own wonderful self.  I really wonder if he didn't suspect about the farmer's death.  And, as far as that goes, Bunny's as well.  Certainly he was aware of the moods of his students, and knew them well enough to catch the vibes from them.

 

 

frankie wrote:  In my opinion, the Gods are of course a reference to the Greek gods, but I think it's also a reference to the bacchanal. Sense of superiority? Do the members of the group consider themselves gods in some way? They certainly played the part of god when murdering Bunny. And I think Henry at least thought rather highly of himself.

 

I agree....remember how they wanted to become (I'm paraphrasing here) One with the gods/universe, and feel and experience the god-like qualities. 

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Wow, can't believe it!  This month just flew by, didn't it?  :D

 

There were some great posts and opinions and I'm really glad to have read both the thread and the book. 

 

I wonder how many of us will go on to read Tartt's The Little Friend now.

 

-30-

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OK I'm a little late to the party, but here goes:

 

1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked? 

I suppose I sympathised with Richard the most, probably because he was the narrator and so you naturally saw things from his point of view. I really liked (as in enjoyed reading about) all the main characters. I probably found Camilla the least interesting. Perhaps Bunny and Henry were the most interesting. The characters were all so well drawn though I enjoyed reading about them all. Even the Corcorans, slightly grotesque as they were made for great reading.

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

There were so many great scenes it's hard to pick one. I loved the episode where Francis is having his panic attack and gets taken to the emergency room. I loved the sequence where Bunny is becoming increasingly wild and unmanageable and a threat to the others. Charles increasing alcoholism was compelling, as was the drama with the Julian's letter. I was on the edge of my seat.

3- Did you like the writing?

I thought the writing was excellent. The imagery was vivid, the characters believable, original and interesting and the insights into human nature brilliant.

4- Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?

No I've read The Little Friend which I also loved, but thought this was better.

 

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

The whole ancient greek/classics thing was rather alien for me, although she did a great job of maintaining my interest in characters with whom I would have so little in common. It would have been nice if a little more of the greek was translated.
I think the most disturbing aspect of the book for me was the way it made me able to sympathise with the murderers. I was worried for them that Bunny would let the cat out of the bag, even though they had done something brutal and horrific. (Perhaps this was made easier because the focus was on the perpetators and not on the victim, and the original crime itself is not dwelt upon). Also because Bunny wasn't a likeable character I was not sorry to watch him tumble to his death. As a reader, I felt I was being drawn into something, just like Richard was. I was being taken down a path I would never willingly tread.

6- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

Yes. I was dying to get to the end, but as soon as I finished it I was sorry that I had to leave it behind.
 

7. What did you think of Julian? So far the first readers have described him as manipulative and a fraud. What is it about him that might rub you the wrong way? And if you did like Julian, we would love to hear your thoughts on him in that respect, too!

I didn't know what to make of Julian. He was certainly an odd character. Right from the beginning where he was so controlling and elitist about the way he took students on. I found that, and the way his students adored him so, rather creepy, almost as though he had some kind of sociopathic need for undivided adoration.

Edited by ~Andrea~

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I thought of Henry as better looking than that....sort of big, tall and squarish(ly) built.  

I pictured Bunny as looking a bit like, oh, I can't think of the name!  The big, sloppy looking blonde guy from Saturday Night Live. 

 

Andrea, I have to say that although I enjoyed this one, I liked The Goldfinch more.  I think it was mostly because the main character, Theo, while messed up is far more likable than any of these characters. 

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I'm sorry I'm late to respond to the latest posts, lately life's been ... well, life!
 

2- Was there a particular part you enjoyed more than the rest?

Also the letter that Bunny had written to Julian, when they found out about it, and the following finagling to try to get it back, and the ultimate, when Julian saw the hotel letterhead.
3- Did you like the writing?


This seems to be a favorite among many of us :D It was a very clever idea of Tartt, and it was so well executed. Chilling! :yes:
 

4- Was this the first book you've read by this author, has it encouraged you to read more?
No, it is the second.   I read The Goldfinch late last year, and enjoyed it as well.


I'm glad to hear that! :) Do you think you will give The Little Friend a go? :)
 

I never trusted him, a bit.  The whole time I had a sense of his superficiality, and wish not to become involved personally with the students.  Which was in a way a contradiction to his teaching method.  But then I realized that he was suffering from the same hubris as his students, in fact he fostered it in them. 


That is actually a very good point. He was so selective with his students, and then gave the impression that they were all very special and close to one another. And then when the doody hit the fan, he wanted nothing to do with it!

 

Of course he should have gone to the police, but he didn't want anything to reflect on his own wonderful self.  I really wonder if he didn't suspect about the farmer's death.  And, as far as that goes, Bunny's as well.  Certainly he was aware of the moods of his students, and knew them well enough to catch the vibes from them.


I've also wondered if he suspected his group of the farmer's death. He was, after all, a smart man, and he knew his students and that they weren't quite the same... Surely it must've at least crossed his mind at some point.

 

Wow, can't believe it!  This month just flew by, didn't it?  :D
 
There were some great posts and opinions and I'm really glad to have read both the thread and the book. 
 
I wonder how many of us will go on to read Tartt's The Little Friend now.


Yep, the month flew by! :D I'm really happy with the circle and how things went, and also very curious to see how many will now read The Little Friend and/or The Goldfinch :)

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1- Who was your favourite character? Were there any characters whom you disliked? 

I suppose I sympathised with Richard the most, probably because he was the narrator and so you naturally saw things from his point of view. I really liked (as in enjoyed reading about) all the main characters. I probably found Camilla the least interesting. Perhaps Bunny and Henry were the most interesting. The characters were all so well drawn though I enjoyed reading about them all. Even the Corcorans, slightly grotesque as they were made for great reading.

I think it was easier to sympathize with Richard also because he wasn't part of the 'initial murder'. He wasn't part of the crazy bacchanals and I don't think he was as deluded as the others. He really was sucked into the events unwillingly, by the others.

 

 

5- Were there any parts/ideas you struggled with?

The whole ancient greek/classics thing was rather alien for me, although she did a great job of maintaining my interest in characters with whom I would have so little in common. It would have been nice if a little more of the greek was translated.

I think I'm used to things not being translated in books... I think it's astounding how many books have a sentence or two of French in them and those sentences are usually not translated, as if the author expects the reader to know his/her French. [Although sometimes if I'm reading a Finnish translation of an English novel, the Finnish translator has added a footnote and has translated the French for the benefit of the reader. That's very considerate!] It always annoys me, but I'm used to it. So personally the untranslated Greek didn't really bother me.

 

 

I think the most disturbing aspect of the book for me was the way it made me able to sympathise with the murderers. I was worried for them that Bunny would let the cat out of the bag, even though they had done something brutal and horrific. (Perhaps this was made easier because the focus was on the perpetators and not on the victim, and the original crime itself is not dwelt upon). Also because Bunny wasn't a likeable character I was not sorry to watch him tumble to his death. As a reader, I felt I was being drawn into something, just like Richard was. I was being taken down a path I would never willingly tread.

The victim was hardly talked about, now that you mention it! I don't think the group felt sorry for the farmer not on one single occasion. They were only worried about themselves.

 

Well said, about being drawn into something just like Richard :)

 

6- Overall, was reading the book an enjoyable experience?

Yes. I was dying to get to the end, but as soon as I finished it I was sorry that I had to leave it behind.

Always happy to see new people discover this book, as it's one of my favorites! :) And I can say from personal experience that the book is re-readable: I enjoyed it probably just as much the second time as during the first. Of course I knew what happened from before, but I'd forgotten a few important and rather big elements in the story, so that helped :D

 

 

7. What did you think of Julian? So far the first readers have described him as manipulative and a fraud. What is it about him that might rub you the wrong way? And if you did like Julian, we would love to hear your thoughts on him in that respect, too!

I didn't know what to make of Julian. He was certainly an odd character. Right from the beginning where he was so controlling and elitist about the way he took students on. I found that, and the way his students adored him so, rather creepy, almost as though he had some kind of sociopathic need for undivided adoration.

It was creepy indeed, but I do think that it must flatter a young student's ego to be handpicked by a professor. I know I would've been very flattered back in the day!

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Kidsmum: @ "for some reason i could see Henry as looking like Sheldon from the Big Bang, i suppose because he was quite geeky"

 

:D Not the kind of connection I made... I think Henry's geekyness was of a different sort than Sheldon's, and for that reason I don't think he looked as 'nerdy' as Sheldon. Very interesting, though! :D

 

:D For me he looked just like Richard Osman

 

:D This is getting really interesting! Bring on the different Henries, everyone! Did you guys have any other people posing as any of the other characters in the book?

 

I thought of Henry as better looking than that....sort of big, tall and squarish(ly) built.

I agree. Better looking (although what's better looking is of course relative), but not in an obvious way. Not handsome! But better looking yes. And tall and squarishly built, yes!

 

I pictured Bunny as looking a bit like, oh, I can't think of the name!  The big, sloppy looking blonde guy from Saturday Night Live.

Um... I don't know any current SNL people... Will Ferrell??? :D

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