Wednesday, March 21st, 2012
100

'The Secret History': I Know What You Did Last Reading Period

Oh. Oh. WHAT could be more delightful? You've read it, of course. It's… oh, I can't even describe it. It's a delight. A melodramatic, delightful delight. Do you have a guest room? Put this next to the bed. Were you one of the many young people who became a classics major as a direct result of The Secret History? Put this next to your threadbare futon with the soy sauce stains on it. Donna Tartt: kicking ass and ruining lives since 1992.

Let's talk about that title. It's awful! And, obviously, I assumed that it was one of those situations in which the author has a totally boss title, and then the publisher says "no, we're calling it Murder in New England/Sex and Death at Hampden College/The Bacchanalian Diaries," but on closer inspection, it appears that the working title was actually The God of Illusions, which is… also bad. Is it better? Who knows. The Secret History sold a bazillion copies, so perhaps we should give props to the good people at Knopf.

Speaking of titles, every single character in this book has a name straight out of The White People Who Are Rich Without Having Jobs Handbook. Do you think I exaggerate? (I do.) Francis. Charles. Camilla. Henry. Bunny (real name, Edmund!) Julian! Richard is on the fence, but then, so is Richard himself, amirite? Richard, of course, is our narrator. Most of us will identify with Richard. Tartt has you pegged: grew up working or lower-middle class, read a lot, thought you were special, had free-floating melancholia and swooned about, created elaborate fictive inner lives, got into a good college and immediately suspected that everyone else was working from a guidebook you didn't have, and also knew instinctively what to do with those little scarves and how to order oysters. It's Prep, you know? And it's the two different kinds of rich-people-lives that one can fawn after. Francis, with the "summers in Switzerland, winters in France," and then Bunny. Tartt nails Bunny: "Four brothers, no sisters, in a big noisy house in the suburbs, with sailboats and tennis rackets and golden retrievers; summers on Cape Cod, boarding schools near Boston and tailgate parties during football season; an upbringing vitally present in Bunny in every respect, from the way he shook your hand to the way he told a joke." Read Tad Friend's Cheerful Money.

The truly curious thing, in retrospect, is that these charming young monied nutcases are only undergraduates. One trembles to think of the hijinks they might get up to were they actually in a doctoral program! Can you imagine? Think of everyone you've ever known who is working on a dissertation, please. That look they get in their eyes? The thousand-yard stare? It wouldn't be one farmer, accidentally, and then an aggravating friend, purposely. No, there would be hemlock in the water supply. The quad would run red with blood. Moreover, who was unmoved by the ease with which the nutty professor got Richard out of all his other work in order to learn exclusively from him? If it meant skipping distribution requirements without repercussion, who wouldn't become a murderous classicist?

(Sidebar: what if someone rewrote The Secret History, but replaced Richard with Ignatius J. Reilly? Let that thought settle for a bit.)

Let me burst your bubble right now: they are never going to make a decent movie of The Secret History, so all of the weirdly persistent Tartt-isans can simmer down. You know why? Because it would look super, super nerdy on film. Trust me. On paper, it's Gothic and gooey and fun and people are being Anciently Greek and quoting "The Waste Land" at each other, and it's loads of good fun, but prop some 22-year-old ingenue who got three callbacks for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn up there delivering lines, and it's going to look like a non-awesome Cruel Intentions: The College Years. The interminable conversations about art and beauty and the fire of pure being? Picture the worst early-morning discussion section with the most pretentious students imaginable, while you're grimly trying to eat your Chik-fil-A and work through your hangover. Some things just don't translate well across mediums. Did you read The Lord of the Rings? Do you remember Tom Bombadil and Goldberry? Well, there's a reason they didn't make it into the movie. It would have looked stupid. No, The Secret History is a forbidden, nerdy bitch goddess.

And there's nothing wrong with that. You know how Liz Lemon gets those flashbacks to college, and it's always her taking photographs of stuffed birds or dating gay guys? Well, I re-read The Secret History, and I'm right back there in my dorm, watching Gosford Park Rocky Horror Picture Show-style with a bunch of guys who wore bowties and drank Pimm's Cups and remembered the Queen's birthday. Which is to say, I would have been skipping along merrily, having ill-advised Dionysian rites and critiquing other people's yellow silk jackets on seasonal grounds with the best of them. Nerdy is nerdy, and it doesn't become less nerdy just because you've covered up a couple of murders, y'know? Embrace it! Dress as Charles and Camilla Macaulay for Halloween! Drive to Vermont, have a boozy themed picnic! (Apple tart(t)s, red wine, bunches of grapes, chunks of lamb, whatever.)

When I recommend The Secret History to others, I usually say "the first hundred pages are great, and then it bleeds out a little," but, on re-read, I'm inclined to think that I just have a hundred-page attention span, because of the Tnternet, and that the whole thing is really pretty fun. We've gotten away from asking the question: "is it any good?" of our Classic Trash selections, so I am happy to answer that, yes, this one is good, despite being all mannered and fussy and froofy and faux-heavy and THE DARK FLAW. I think it's ridiculous that everyone blabbers on about Donna Tartt fading from the scene and not living up to the potential of her first novel. It's an incredible, monumental achievement to write one decent novel that everyone likes, for heaven's sake. Not to mention a decent novel that everyone likes and actually buys. If you manage it, the rest of us should buy you jars of imported lime curd and fan you with palm fronds for the rest of your days. But no, that's not how it works! Apparently, you get a two-year grace period, and then the vultures start circling you. Maybe John Kennedy Toole had it right. (Joke! Don't kill yourselves, young novelists. Your unpublished manuscript is not going to be hailed as a triumph by Walker Percy. Better to live.)

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS!

• Come clean: did you become a classics major because of The Secret History?

• What would you have named this book, if you had your druthers? Remember, The Art of Locative Cases has been taken. So has Desperately Seeking Henry.

• If you were a white person who is rich without having a job, what would you name your creepy twin offspring?

• Did you attend Bennington? Did you kill anyone? Is there something special about Bennington that makes people want to write weird books set at fictionalized versions of Bennington? Does Peter Dinklage come back for alumni events? Have you met Peter Dinklage? Are you watching Game of Thrones? Have you seen Episode Nine? Were you expecting that? Who do you pretend you are? I pretend I'm Daenerys.

• What book do you offer to your overnight guests who didn't bring their own book? What are you doing, having overnight guests who don't come with their own books?

• I skipped The Little Friend. Is it any good?

• Did you read The Secret History and not enjoy it? I would like to hear more about that.

• Charles and Camilla: intentional homage to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall?

• Did you know that John Kennedy Toole worked at a hot tamale stand, and that, really, the singular is "tamal"? Did you also know that "flaccid" can be pronounced as "flak-sid," and that many believe this to be more correct?

And for next time, loves, let's do The Autobiography of Henry VIII: With Notes by His Fool, Will Somers.


Previously: Clan Of The Cave Bear and The Valley Of Horses



Nicole Cliffe is the proprietress of Lazy Self-Indulgent Book Reviews.

100 Comments / Post A Comment

omitofo (#4,921)

I read The Secret History post-college and it just made me all the more grateful I went to a large California public university.

jane lane (#13,631)

@omitofo I read it post-college and it did not make me glad to have gone to a large Southern public university at all.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Huh. Well, now that I know The Secret History counts as trash (is it available in mass-market paperback??), maybe I'll finally get around to reading it.

@Mr. B : I'm hoping that the broadening definition of "trash" allows for the inclusion of The Talented Mr. Ripley, because c'mooooonnnnnn.

hillcricket (#224,902)

@Mr. B Hell yeah mass-market paperback. This is what my copy looks like. Kind of hilarious: http://www.palomar.edu/english/versaci/images/Secret%20History.jpg

dunc (#228,600)

I can honestly say this was one of the most disappointing books I have ever read… Mainly because I somehow got it into my head that the big secret/mystery was something supernatural. So it's my own fault, really. Oh well.

TejCage (#238,812)

@dunc sounds like you've confused the secret history with the da vinci code. Rookie mistake. And by rookie I mean that you must be new to reading. Also did you read secret history?

Vera Knoop (#2,167)

I read this book as a teenager, and oh, the characters all seemed so witty and terrifying and sophisticated. I reread it a few years ago, and I just wanted to slap the pretension out of every single one of them. And I did my BA in Greek and Latin. Still love the book, though; I just feel very differently about the characters.

Also: Moreover, who was unmoved by the ease with which the nutty professor got Richard out of all his other work in order to learn exclusively from him? If it meant skipping distribution requirements without repercussion, who wouldn't become a murderous classicist?

Yes. One of the many reasons that this book is twinned in my mind with the also excellent Tam Lin by Pamela Dean.

Zombie Stalin (#228,608)

@Vera Knoop
I just recently tried to re-read The Magus by John Fowles, which I loved when I first read it right before college, and also involves a young douchebag and overly pompous old man and had much the same reaction. I just wanted to scream at every character, "Shut your fucking pie hole!" I put it back on the shelf after getting 1/3 of the way through.

scrooge (#2,697)

@Zombie Stalin Good move, Zombie. It took me all these years to realize you can actually stop reading a book you're not enjoying.

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

@Vera Knoop Tam Lin is the book that played into my decision to become a classicist. Soooooo goooooood.

bearleader (#228,656)

@Nomie @twitter Tam Lin made me a classicist too. I wonder how many of us are out there? And was it that scene about how you get to read Plato and Homer in the third semester? Because I have stolen that argument and used it on my students.

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

@bearleader I started taking Latin in 7th grade and the descriptions of Greek sucked me in. Also the part where her professor gives them seven translations of a passage; it rang so true to what I was already experiencing even with our baby versions of various texts that I couldn't go anywhere else.

However, we had a disappointingly low number of hot dudes who would quote poetry at me.

NoReally (#217,942)

Don't bother with Little Friend, seriously.

And, the acknowledgements, or maybe even the dedication, where she calls Jay McInerney something like "the best friend I will ever have my whole life." That's got to be embarrassing, even if they're still friends.

And, Confederacy of Dunces! A seminal text in my family.

Vera Knoop (#2,167)

@NoReally Eh, I liked it. It's not going to make anyone happy who wants another Secret History, but I thought it was engaging and smart. I admit that the end was a bit of a letdown, but I enjoyed spending time with Harriet (named for Vane? or The Spy? or both?)

owlfacedmothmen (#10,667)

@Vera Knoop I liked The Little Friend quite a bit (maybe even more than The Secret History?)It has a nice southern gothic bent that I really enjoyed, plus meth labs. Meth labs!!

@NoReally I liked The Little Friend a million times more than Secret History & I did like Secret History so there's that. Southern gothic precocious child heroine running around in dangerous situations on her own. Nutsy old aunts. Sort of heartbreaking. Umm, see also the Flavia de Luce mystery series please. Recommended to people who enjoy the Scout/Harriet character trope.

NoReally (#217,942)

@NoReally No, no, no, I'm high on crack, of course. Not McInernery, B E Ellis is her best friend for life, 'cause they went to school together and all. But she didn't call Bennington Camden like he did. That other Bennington woman did. Can't remember her name of anything about her book except the lifeguards having a "death keg" when someone drowns.

Mr. B (#10,093)

Oh, and I just learned today from his Paris Review interview that Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt went on a date once at Bennington and exchanged early chapters of this book and Less Than Zero. So maybe some future installment could tackle Bret? The Rules of Attraction is surely at least the second-trashiest thing ever written in stream-of-consciousness.

CK (#2,489)

I only know one person who has read The Secret History and not loved it—and she's a snob who refuses to like anything that is any fun at all. The exception that proves the rule, etc.

RonMwangaguhung (#3,697)

As someone who studied the classics at a small, claustrophobic liberal arts college in Vermont I just want to attest to the fact that everything Donna Tartt wrote about what it is like there is spot on. Just the murders were in our minds.

It is a Greek tragedy that no one will ever mask a decent movie out of this or (a props of nothing) John Fowles' The Magus.

MollyculeTheory (#4,519)

@RonMwangaguhung No! It totally reminded me of The Magus. I recently described it as "semi-trashy, let's say John Fowles-trashy."

oudemia (#177)

@RonMwangaguhung Didn't you also study for a time at the smaller, more claustrophobic, Greek-instructing liberal arts college in Maryland that I also attended? Regardless, I certainly agree. (And, Zeus knows why I know this, but I think G. Paltrow's brother owns the rights to The SH.)

Slapdash (#174)

@oudemia I went there too, and we're three numbers apart. How's that for claustrophobic?

RonMwangaguhung (#3,697)

@oudemia yes("come, come ye sons of art!")! pappa was a rolling stone!

dntsqzthchrmn (#2,893)

The title… it's a Procopius reference, right? Not so much terrible as a little fussy, as if Le Carre called a spy novel "Works and Days," or something.

@dntsqzthchrmn This is where I reveal my complete ignorance of Procopius. Thank you!

jfruh (#713)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook To be fair, The Secret History is several centuries after the time period the characters is Tart's book study, but it's still a super-rad book. Procopius was basically the court historian of the Emperor Justinian, writing lots of books about how great he was, and then he had this secret extra book that was only published after his death, which is literally about how Justinian was a demon who would walk around the palace without his head and his wife liked it when dudes fucked her in the nipples.

Decca (#22,846)

@jfruh See, the thought of studying any writing pre-Skelton makes me want to fall asleep but then I read something like this and I get classicist envy.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@jfruh The nipple fucking…I don't know, that's when Procopius reached the realm of "beyond a reasonable suspension of disbelief" for me.

atipofthehat (#797)

@boyofdestiny

Where did that Emperor Constantine get off, anyway? The colossal cheek!

Annie K. (#3,563)

I didn't read it and probably won't and am writing here only to say Ignatius J. Reilly. They can't put him in a movie either.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@Annie K. Patton Oswalt with a mustache. Think about it.

Hootch (#228,813)

@Annie K. I wish there were more circumstances in which I could use the sentence "I am writing here only to say Ignatius J. Reilly."

astrangerinthealps (#178,808)

@Annie K. Jack Black could have played IJR, but I think that ship has sailed. They dicked around too long with casting Will Ferrell, who is all wrong for that part.

BoHan (#29)

As long as we're in the brat pack can we do Glamorama? Because I so love high fashion models/spies who have hot sex and kill each other. Thanks!

I had always assumed the title was a reference to Procopius, no?

JanieS (#228,605)

@Vera Knoop Tam Lin! That's the book that made me major in Classics. And perform extra-curricular Shakespeare. Never did meet a faerie queen, though …

Moxie (#81,363)

This book was recommended to my by a girl on whom I had a crush. She said it was her favorite ever and we had a little book exchange. While I later returned this book, she still has my copy of Nine Stories (which is not my favorite because how do you even?).

Needless to say, things didn't go anywhere.

Myles Tanzer (#13,698)

I read this in a freshman seminar called "Welcome To College: The Novel" (it was amazing)
I loved Bunny so much.

@Myles Tanzer AHHH, what else was on the syllabus?

Megan@twitter (#44,868)

@Myles Tanzer This sounds like the best freshman seminar!

Decca (#22,846)

@Myles Tanzer This is a dream class! I'm speculating on what I'd assign on the syllabus…

Myles Tanzer (#13,698)

@Nicole Cliffe@facebook So much trash/actually good stuff.
This Side Of Paradise, I am Charlotte Simmons, Family Reunion (REALLY trashy), I think my favorite was The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd. It was such a great class.

scrooge (#2,697)

@Myles Tanzer Charlotte Simmons, yes, chilling education for an old (written by an old) about the youngs.

Miles Klee (#3,657)

Clearly, not enough Sean Bateman.

jhjhjhj (#7,025)

I read this post-college and reread it every 9 months or so like the way i indulge in a fancy, trashy Zombie at a tiki bar. there's all these great little asides and Francis! And Julie, the trashy coke whore with the heart of gold who maybe Richard should have just hooked up. With exception of Creepy Twins (because we all know a Camilla and guys, let that one pass), everyone is just so great.

I attended Bennington! I never killed anyone but I did spend most nights sleeping on the couch in the science reading room so I wouldn't. Yes, there is something about Bennington that makes people write books about it. No, I have not met Peter Dinklage but I'm holding out hope. I pretend I'm Arya.

Emkay (#228,613)

One of my favorite parts of the book is when Richard is stumbling around town in December, developing pneumonia while staying in the evil hippie's garret. It's such a long build through his illness that I feel all feverish by the time Henry finds him. It's like that one Little House book where they all get the 'ague' and are crawling around on the dirt floor; the reader can't help but feel unwell. Literary Munchausen Syndrome!!

@Emkay : Oh dude yeah, I totally agree on that one. It makes me all phlegmy.

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

@Emkay And the cold! I grew up in New England and the descriptions of the unbearable bone-deep cold and the terrible beauty of the winter were so great. Good to read in the middle of summer.

Yatima@twitter (#12,963)

I did not become a classics major because of The Secret History but I did become an English major because of Gaudy Night. OLD SCHOOL literally, in this case.

My creepy triplets would be called Nelson, Vaclav and Xanana.

I pretend I'm Jon Snow.

Megan@twitter (#44,868)

- Still love all things classics. Classics 4eva.

- I liked The Little Friend. It took me about 6 months to come to terms with the ending though.

- I spent summers in my childhood in Bennington and college at a small liberal arts college in the middle of nowhere. Both are as claustrophobic as Tartt makes Hampden feel.

- The rich people. Gah. The description of the house and family at Bunny's funeral (not a spoiler) makes me feel so lower class I can't stand it.

Patrick M (#404)

Little Friend has definitely aged well in my memory. There are some great moments, but there is definitely a sinking feeling that sets in when (spoiler, I guess) it becomes clear a central question is not going to be satisfyingly unraveled but isn't that how LIFE is, you guys? Like LIFE doesn't, like, wrap itself up in a neat package? Wait, guys, why are you kicking me out of the Classics program?

jfruh (#713)

@Patrick M Seriously, I refuse to feel not smart for feeling that the MYSTERY that the protagonist decides at the beginning of the book to solve should in some sense have been solved. Am I middlebrow? I'll own it.

hapax (#6,251)

@jfruh The fact that the protagonist misjudged the nature of the MYSTERY was sort of interesting; the problem is, her mistakenness about that left, well, no other tension in the book. I wish Tartt had found some other thread to pick up that would make the whole thing feel meaningful. Instead, the whole book sort of felt like it was about nothing, which made me hate it maybe a bit more than it deserved.

All that having been said, the opening chapter of The Little Friend was gorgeous and chilling, arguably better than anything in The Secret History. I'm sad that the promise of that chapter never really paid out.

Decca (#22,846)

This is twinned with Daniel Handler's Basic Eight in my head as "sneaky sexy books about college that I read just before I went to college man oh man where are my posh aesthete friends and murder victims?". A+.

demi_mondaine (#222,147)

@Decca I know, I think one of the major disappointments of college was that I didn't make any friends like this. The Classics people were all painting figurines for their role-playing games. And they were having sex and I wasn't. Gah.

MissLisa (#11,922)

"The Little Friend" made me feel dirty and sick. I can't really recommend that feeling. She can surely write about environments and their malcontents but something about that story was too sludgy for me. I went to a California State University so I'm not sure I would even get Secret History. I do love the films of Whit Stillman though, so I'm willing to give it a try.

linared (#228,669)

@MissLisa That is one of the strongest memories I have of the book, that I felt the heat and the snakes. Didn't make me enjoy the book though.

atipofthehat (#797)

@MissLisa

For me, The Little Friend just didn't pay off, despite some great moments. The back half of the book seemed to have forgotten the front.

@MissLisa @linared @atipofthehat do you all remember the storylines of books even years later? i read the little friend when it came out and have no recollection of the plot. am i reading wrong or something??

linared (#228,669)

@MissLisa I do but i'm pretty weird.

jfruh (#713)

I went to Cornell, which has a very large student body, and one of my co-workers at the library had transferred from Bennington after two years, and she considered the anonymity of being one among 12,000+ undergraduates to be the greatest relief she had experienced in her life to that point. She said that she could sit in the student union (or whatever passes for one there) with her eyes closed and tell who had walked in by the rhythm of their gait. I knew her just before I read this book, but she definitely had murder on her mind when she talked about the place.

Lemonnier (#14,611)

I liked The Secret History — my dead (though not murdered), classics-major ex-boyfriend described it as "a better than average beach read," which I thought was apt. But A Confederacy of Dunces? UGH.

"Let me burst your bubble right now: they are never going to make a decent movie of The Secret History, so all of the weirdly persistent Tartt-isans can simmer down."

What if it was written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by David Fincher? If they can make Zuckerburg seem edgy and cool…

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

@Shaun Robinson@facebook Oh god, it would take the insufferability of the characters and ratchet it up into the stratosphere.

zidaane (#373)

I was at a Fire Island rental last summer and it had the best bookshelf. I had already read most of the options but one book was there that I had been wanting to buy so I read that and then made my sister read it.

"A Way of Life, Like Any Other"

@zidaane That is an absolutely wonderful book!!!

When I first read The Secret History, for some reason the beat-up used copy I got had the first couple pages stuck together (!!!) so I totally skipped the prologue because I didn't know it was there. To clarify : the prologue is where Richard tells you, the reader, exactly what terrible thing they did and how he's going to tell the story of this awful event he's just identified. So while a normal reader with a functioning prologue would have been all "aha, OK, I see where this is leading," I HAD NO IDEA WHAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN.

Full disclosure : I thought maybe they were going to turn out to be vampires.

I still enjoyed it.

lawyergay (#220)

True story: My brother and I had an extremely serious, heated, months-long discussion about whether/to what extent "The Secret History" would become part of the "canon." I was a college senior, and my brother was a sophomore, which is about right.

Allison@twitter (#228,789)

I totally became a classics major because of this book.

mromani (#228,735)

yes totally

Nomie @twitter (#226,424)

I was already a classics major when I read this book, but man, did it ever crawl inside my head. It's the book I always use as the example of how you can hate every single character and still love the book itself.

Also, I wish my tutorials had been in an office like Julian's instead of a slightly disgusting conference room. But then, I didn't go to Bennington.

cuminafterall (#163,544)

I read this book as a high school junior. I did not become a classics major because of this book. I did memorize the first few stanzas of The Divine Comedy in Italian and strongly considered applying to Bennington because of it.

atipofthehat (#797)

What, no one became a murderer because of this book?

MrsLlama (#167,676)

Ugh, I have had this on reserve at the liberry for approximately EVER. How does the Brooklyn Public Library system only have one copy?

AitchBee (#228,856)

Did I squeal aloud when I read that The Autobiography of Henry VIII* was next? Was I on the Metro? Did I get two seats to myself for the rest of my commute?

Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe fuck yourself.
*w/ notes. Obvi.

chartreusan (#222,495)

@AitchBee I totally got the Tom-seeing-Ben-as-Batman from Parks and Rec look on my face. IN OTHER WORDS, TOTAL JOY.

My only thing is that Jean Plaidy got to me way before Margaret George did, and I am Team Anne Boleyn for life. The Lady in the Tower is my jamz.

Claire Zulkey (#6,639)

I took this book SO SERIOUSLY when I first read it in high school. I wanted to be those kids (obvious exceptions aside.) As I got older though I realized what trash this book is, but I mean that in the best, most loving way.

Little Friend is probably a better book but way less fun a read.

harrietvane (#228,875)

I applied to Bennington shortly after reading The Secret History. It was a disappointment in comparison, but I did feel very, very lower class and eventually had an affair with my professor (does that ever happen in the book? I forget). Peter Dinklage does not deign to come to alumni reunions.

Joolia (#134,664)

this is a great book. and I too am the Khaleesi, in my mind! Love Dany forever!

portmanteautally (#1,015)

Just popped in to say that I graduated from Bennington in the same class as Peter Dinklage, and he was the nicest person ever, and his ridiculous talent was extremely evident even then. His performances were MIND-BLOWINGLY GOOD.

Alumni from our era rarely participate much in Bennington things because we all felt really sold out by Liz Coleman's faculty-related policies as President of the college. We get together outside of official events.

figwiggin (#228,895)

I was holding out, but I finally made an Awl account so I could comment here! And I'm ashamed to say that I haven't even read The Secret History, it's all because of your one mention of Prep. I didn't even want to like it, how does she keep pulling me in and making me reread it?? Aubrey, the underwear, the haircuts! Argh. Maybe I need to read The Secret History to get over Prep.

kormantic@twitter (#228,901)

I loved this book so hard, even though I also secretly hate myself for loving it. When I pimp it to friends I say it's "basically as trashy as any episode of Jerry Springer, its patina of academic respectability leaves you feeling like a highbrowed intellectual, and therein lies its deadly charm: candy for breakfast, dressed up as high fiber." http://www.favoritethingever.com/2010/11/fatal-flaws-can-be-fun/

Yes (#228,914)

I go to Bennington and read The Secret History after my first term. It's very unlike the campus in many ways yet there are pieces that are achingly accurate. I also picked up references to Bennington lore I had learned and instantly recognized current Bennington students in place of some of the characters (particularly the twins). Bennington's definitely much more socioeconomically diverse now but there are definitely some insanely wealthy people, complete with fancy WASPy names.
Peter Dinklage is going to be the commencement speaker this year!

Cavendish (#206,568)

Oh my God, Secret History. I wish I could go back in time and read it again for the first time.

I read it in the fall of the first year of my PhD program in English, which is in New England. I moved here from California, just like Richard. (Incidentally, he only thing that bothered me about this book were Tartt's descriptions of California. I got the sense she had never actually been there.) I read it in two days. One of my cohort also loves this book, and was a Classics major. I'll have to ask him if it made him into one.

morwen (#228,923)

The Little Friend is great, too! One of the things I love most about Tartt's writing is the development of atmosphere, and she beautifully describes the hot, languid, Southern summer. Also, I don't know if any of you have ever read some of the Irish mysteries by Tana French, but they are shockingly similar plot-wise to Tartt's Histories and Little Friend (and are also good but not as well-executed, in my opinion).

Lara Murphy@twitter (#242,568)

@morwen I totally see the similarities between Donna Tartt and Tana French! Tana French's characters are not as fully developed as those in The Secret History, maybe? But I still really enjoy her work and I'm glad she's a bit more prolific than Tartt. No judgment, I just wish that lady would give me more to read.

Cavendish (#206,568)

P.S. I once described The Magicians as a combination of The Secret History and Harry Potter, so fellow TSH fans may like that book too.

FrankRalphBob (#226,960)

Didn't read the book… just needed to comment that it would have to be Jon Snow for me. Or Sandor Clegane… they're the only ones. I could see Dany or Arya if I was female. I didn't see the series however, only read the book (sorry, no cable)…

i went through a cream cheese and jelly phase after reading this book. other than that i dont remember too much about the actual story. you know what was similar that i really enjoyed? special topics in calamity physics…that really seemed like the heir to this. dont know if someone already mentioned above so apologies if redundant.

I could nerd out about this book forever. Paltrow did own the rights for awhile, but I don't think she does anymore (she would have made a good Camilla ten years ago.) I still hold a secret hope that it is made into a movie (or tv series, a la twin peaks) one day.

Doubtful that Charles & Camilla's names were a nod to the Prince and the former Mrs. Parker-Bowles, Smartt is much more subtle then that. To wit: Camilla, in ancient Greek history, is the daughter of Horatius, right? There’s a poem called Lays of Ancient Rome by Lord Macauley that tells the story of Horatius. Camilla’s last name in The Secret History?

Macauley.

Also, if memory serves me ancient Greece’s Camilla had a brother who killed her fiance.

TejCage (#238,812)

@Lisaann Dupont@facebook i enjoyed your "nerd out"

Tulletilsynet (#333)

The Little Friend is sketches for a novel that the author never figured out how to write.

Also, the water tank. Ew.

Tulletilsynet (#333)

Nobody's going to mention the "Brett Easton Ellis ghosted The Secret History" theory?

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etheb1sava (#229,350)

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TejCage (#238,812)

@nicole cliffe@facebook
I stumbled on to this site today and am digging the overall level of intellect and wit. My medication is kicking in so I will now answer all of the questions.

• Come clean: did you become a classics major because of The Secret History? My attention span is too short to even fantasize about this.

• What would you have named this book, if you had your druthers? Remember, The Art of Locative Cases has been taken. So has Desperately Seeking Henry. Cliches to Die For

• If you were a white person who is rich without having a job, what would you name your creepy twin offspring? Mitt and Marilyn

• Did you attend Bennington? Did you kill anyone? Is there something special about Bennington that makes people want to write weird books set at fictionalized versions of Bennington? Does Peter Dinklage come back for alumni events? Have you met Peter Dinklage? Are you watching Game of Thrones? Have you seen Episode Nine? Were you expecting that? Who do you pretend you are? I pretend I'm Daenerys. N/A untill 'are you watching…" YES. No. John Snow.

• What book do you offer to your overnight guests who didn't bring their own book? What are you doing, having overnight guests who don't come with their own books? Howard Zinn's The People's History…but I make my guests feel like crap about not bringing a book.

• I skipped The Little Friend. Is it any good?
no idea
• Did you read The Secret History and not enjoy it? I would like to hear more about that.
nope
• Charles and Camilla: intentional homage to the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall?
yes
• Did you know that John Kennedy Toole worked at a hot tamale stand, and that, really, the singular is "tamal"? Did you also know that "flaccid" can be pronounced as "flak-sid," and that many believe this to be more correct? no. no. no. no!?

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