And how did they drive people mad? They turned up the volume of the inner monolgue, magnified qualities already present to great excess, made people so much themselves that they couldn’t stand it.
The Secret History is an incredibly real book. We all (I’m assuming) know the face of english literature academia- elitism, dead languages and studying by candlelight. And I’m sure there are many of us who strive for that. We want to be those people, we want to live those lives.
The main characters in this book are Richard (the narrator), Henry, Bunny, Charles, Camilla and Francis. They all go to Hampden College, and they all study Greek with their teacher Julian. And they all took part in the murder of their friend. Allow me to explain.
As I said, they study Greek, and in one of their lessons they speak about a ritual, one that is hard to understand unless you know rather a lot about such things in Greek context. As they do, they murder a farmer, and because they’re afraid that one of the boys will tell the police, they decide to kill him.
I have talked about this book a lot on my blog, and I’ve said a lot that I love it. And I did. However I recently reread it, and there’s so much in this book that makes me furious, and I think that is the point. To some extent.
None of these characters are good. In fact I would go as far as to say that they are terrible people, self obsessed and selfish, but they are also real. Richard and the rest of the group are so in tune with their own mind, and so capable of forming those thoughts and impulses into words that it is truly real. Because I think if the right people read this book, people who can think further than just action and really try to figure out this book, it is a brilliant and raw book. That I think is the reason it is so closely intertwined with dark academia, because its people with that mindset who can question the smallest things in this book and read into it so much more than others.
But there is also stuff in this book that I can see as being infuriating. Allow me to explain. As I said before, none of the characters I think are meant to be liked, this book I doubt was written for light entertainment with characters we all love and root for. It was written to make us question our morals and ideas. Therefore, the terrible stuff that the characters do or don’t do are very much deliberately written to make us like or dislike said characters.
Also I have to mention the Greek element of this book, because it is a huge part of it. The way they speak about Greek, and the way they describe it is beyond compare. Their thoughts on Greek hugely reflect my thoughts on English Literature. He talks about Greek the way I think of English. There is a really beautiful bit that describes it:
Pur: that one word contains for me the secret, the bright, terrible clarity of ancient Greek. How can I make you see it, this strange harsh light which pervades Homer’s landscapes and illumines the dialogues of Plato, an alien light, inarticulable in our common tongue? Our shared language is a language of the intricate, the peculiar, the home of pumpkins and ragamuffins and Boykins and beer, the tongue of Ahab and Falstaff and Mrs Gamp, and while I find it entirely suitable for reflections such as these, it fails me utterly when I attempt to describe in it what I love about Greek, the language innocent of all quirks and cranks; a language obsessed with action, and with the joy of seeing action multiply from action, action marching relentlessly ahead and with yet more actions filling in from either side to fall into neat step at the rear, in a long straight rank of cause and effect toward what will be inevitable, the only possible end.
Really Donna Tartt is an amazing author, she’s so so talented, and she could have written characters that we all love, because she’s a good writer.
There is so much to this book, more than I can really unpack now. I will leave it at that for now. I’d love to hear your thoughts, and if anyone’s read it, let me know what you thought.