The Secret History by Donna Tartt: Dark Academia at its Finest

The Secret History ruined my life in the best way possible.

I am a romantic. I put on platform boots, a pleated skirt, a dark coat, tights, and pearls when making a trip to the bookstore in hopes that I will find a tall, dark, and handsome but respectful man who hates everyone but me (in reality, it’s usually just middle-aged white women there but whatever). So when dark academia resurfaced as a trend, I was all for it.

No book fits dark academia like The Secret History. And I’ll be honest. Originally, I started this book just for the aesthetic but holy hell, it was a lot more than that.

So let’s get into ittttt

First of all, let’s start with the trigger warnings:

Murder

Incest

Racism

Fat phobia

Homophobia

Alcoholism

Rituals/ cult-like behavior

Drug abuse

And basically anything else you can think of live, laugh, love

Let me also mention that there is a STUNNING classical piece performed by the Chamber Orchestra of London called “The Secret History,” which I will link here

Read this while playing this song as it rains outside and perhaps light a candle. *chef’s kiss*

A quick summary: Richard is a transfer student at Hampden College in the east coast.

He wants to take Greek but the Greek professor only has like 5 students and refuses to take any more

These students are enigmatic, eccentric, (arguably) charismatic creatures, and Richard is drawn to them immediately.

Richard is eventually accepted to the Greek class and drops his other classes to be taught by this professor only per the professor’s request (red flag #1)

The novel revolves around his relationship with the other students and a lot of crazy sh*t that I can’t say because SPOILERS but trust me, it’s the ride of a lifetime.

This page is 600 pages and I would say there isn’t really one linear plotline. It focuses on the characters, who are all EXTREMELY pretentious and yet extremely alluring.

Specifically, Henry, my favorite character, who I would argue is both the worst and the best character in the book.

This is the type of dude that translates works into Latin for fun on the weekends. He has this charisma and almost a sense of reliability to him. It’s that psychopathic charm. If you’ve watched the Netflix series “Money Heist,” he’s almost like El Profesor in that any problem you give him, he’ll figure that sh*t out, no matter what the cost. I LIVE for these types of characters.

Bunny is another dude and he’s honestly just an as*hole. Like imagine every ick a guy could have and combine them into that loud kid who thinks they’re super funny in class- that’s Bunny.

Then there’s Camilla and Charles, twins who I would describe as chaotic beauty. A fascinating mess. Like a Pollock.

Richard is arguably the least intriguing character – at first glance. The novel is told from Richard’s POV and there’s not a whole lot to say about him as a character BUT AS A NARRATOR- oh boy.

Richard is the definition of an unreliable narrator.

It really feels like we’re seeing things unfold as Richard. We are him, the bland-ass, mundane character who is obsessed with these pristine creatures in our Greek class. And as his infatuation with the other students is peeled away, so is ours.

Here’s a quote that Richard uses to describe himself. I can’t express it in any better way:

“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.”

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

And guess what? Now that fatal flaw is yours as well.

As you can tell by this quote alone, Donna Tartt’s writing is just magical. The prose is sophisticated, the language is captivating, and the characterization is on-point.

The characters are quite (I’m going to use this word a lot) pretentious and privileged but personally, I LOVE reading about rich people drama. I’ve read reviews where people said they were annoyed by the characters’ personalities but I think their backgrounds are pertinent to the story.

Is it super realistic that college kids would act and talk this way? No. But their dialogue and oddness enhance the mystery and escapism of the book.

Each character is distinct and memorable. There is suspense, sorrow, and struggle for days. And the prose is just unbeatable. Here are some quotes just to prove it: (Please note that I try note to post my FAVORITE quotes because I think there’s so much more value in reading it in the book)

“Beauty is terror. Whatever we call beautiful, we must quiver before it.”

Both quotes by the unreal Donna Tartt from her novel The Secret History (I’m not tryna get copyrighted y’all)

After reading this book, I sat on the floor of my room and stared at the wall, thinking what the f*ck did I just read.

It’s a long read and not an easy one. You need to be focused to understand it (and even then, do we really, truly understand it?) but I can say with utmost confidence that I will never read anything like this again.

Make yourself a cup of tea, wait ’til it’s raining, play my dark academia Spotify playlists, and read this book. I promise you the vibes will be unmatched.

Thanks for reading this besties and make sure to subscribe or comment to become part of the fam. We welcome everyone (as long as ur respectful) no matter if you read 1200 or 1.2 books a year.

See you later and happy reading!

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