Donna Tartt has written three books, and her first was in 1992 with The Secret History. Next is The Little Friend, published in 2003 and finally The Goldfinch in in 2013. So about every 10 years, she has a new book. I’m not used to waiting so long in between books. Most authors publish every year or so, George RR Martin aside, of course. Stephen King cranks out two a year, thankfully. Markus Zusak waited 14 years between The Book Thief and Bridge of Clay. But when a book is as good as The Goldfinch or Bridge of Clay is, the wait is most definitely worth it.
The Secret History is set in the 1980s at a small liberal arts school in Vermont. Richard is the new kid in an elite group of students studying Greek intensively. Francis, twins Camilla and Charles, Edmund (Bunny), and Henry grudgingly accept him into the circle, although Richard doesn’t really know what he is getting into. Joining a tight-knit group is extraordinarily difficult in the best circumstances, but whilst in the middle of an academic setting is near impossible.
Richard handles it as well as possible, mostly aided by alcohol. But when the original group gets into some hot water, to say the least, Richard is put into a very difficult situation. They do try to protect him, realizing he is truly innocent, but unfortunately that doesn’t last. Basically, the group does something terrible, tries to keep Richard out of it, but he ends up in it anyway.
This book is a beautiful character portrait, much like The Goldfinch. Plenty of things happen, but the focus on the character is first and foremost. Before the big terrible things happen, you spend half the book wandering around the college with the kids, getting to know and like (or dislike) them, so when the terrible thing happens, you are gut punched by it because you are so wrapped up in their lives.
I really did love this book, though The Goldfinch is her masterpiece (Pulitzer winner for a reason). The Secret History is an excellent, solid debut book.