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The Secret History

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.

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books and reading

The Goldfinch

I try to keep up with Pulitzer winners, but many of them are rather dull. I read The Orphan Master’s Son, American Pastoral, The Shipping News, all were rather dull. However, some like¬†The Underground Railroad,¬†Beloved, and Middlesex were amazing and worth reading. So when I hear a book has won the Pulitzer, I’m a bit leery. I first read The Goldfinch a few years ago and absolutely fell in love. It was the best book I read that entire year. I’ve recommended it to everyone, but I realize it’s not a book that all will love. It’s not always the most exciting book, but it is beautifully written and kept me engaged from the first page. I reread it in anticipation of the movie coming out this week.

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The story of Theodore Decker is a difficult one. His mother is killed in an art museum bombing. Theo was spared, but in a moment of insanity, he steals a painting during the chaos. A simple little painting of a bird. Theo’s entire life revolves around the fear of the authorities discovering the painting. As a teenager, he bundles it up, hides it, doesn’t think much about it. But as an adult, he realizes the magnitude of what he’s done and doesn’t know how to handle it.

The story is told in two big chunks, Theo as a teenager and as an adult. As a teen, he his mother has died, his father abandoned him, and he ends up living with a family friend. Once his dad resurfaces, Theo moves with him to Las Vegas and ends up meeting Boris, a classmate. Boris is hands-down the most interesting character in the book. You love Theo and are heartbroken for his life, but Boris leaps off the page, both in the teenage years and when he reappears in Theo’s adult life.

I don’t want to say much about the plot because it doesn’t go the way you expect, but it all revolves around the painting. Theo is flawed. He’s a drug addict, a thief (aside from the painting), a liar, and you still love him. But Boris is the dynamic one, and I can’t wait to see him portrayed on screen. He equally oozes charm and violence. He’s a scoundrel to the highest degree. But he is loyal and protects Theo. So far the trailers seem to get the book right. I’m cautiously hopeful for this one.