Sunday, December 23, 2012
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This is the final BOTM book for 2012. I wish I could say the year ended on a high note, but I can’t.
The Secret History, the first novel by Mississippi-born writer Donna Tartt, was published by Alfred A. Knopf in 1992. The story is an inverted detective story, not a Whodunit but a Whydunit. It is set in New England, The Secret History tells the story of a closely knit group of six classics students at a small, elite Vermont college, Hampden College. The novel explores the circumstances and lasting effects of a student’s death on the academically and socially isolated group of Classics students of which he was a part.
We meet the Narrator Richard Papen in the prologue, and he is reflecting, years later, on the situation that led to a murder within the group, the murder being confessed at the outset of the novel but the events otherwise revealed sequentially. In the prologue we find out that 5 students kill their classmate Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran, although few details are given. In the first few chapters, we meet all the main characters and participants of the classics group: Henry Winters, Francis Abernathy, Charles Maculay, Camilla Maculay, and of course our dead student Bunny. Richard, is an outsider, whom has managed to get himself invited to join the very exclusive Classics department student body, of which is comprised solely of these six students. While reading about it, it has a cult like feel, and the teacher Julian is the leader. There are a lot of secrets that happen behind the scenes of the group that Richard is not privy to when he first joins but that are slowly revealed throughout the novel. The original five members are the typical rich kids who have no concept of the real world around them, and Richard is trying so hard to fit in that he comes up with a completely bogus past that is what he thinks they will accept. Richard is of course in love with Camilla, who doesn’t even register him on her romantic radar. So predictable.
We come to find out that Henry, Francis, Charles and Camilla, whom I have dubbed the fantastic 4 (can you tell what my 3 year old has me watching?), while creating some sort of Greek ritual, murder some poor farmer in his field. They of course have no memory of it but were covered in blood and gore, so know they are responsible. Bunny wasn’t there but he finds out shortly after it happens because he sees them all gory. Of course the fantastic 4 want to cover up the murder, god forbid these spoiled brats stand trial, and lord help us get convicted for committing a murder! So they cover it up, for some reason, that I’m not clear on, Bunny doesn’t tell either. But he does begin to blackmail them by expecting expensive trips and meals etc. He makes a ton of sly jokes to get under their skin. Bunny is a greedy sot! Making Camilla iron his shirts and Henry take him to Rome, then wants Paris, which WE know isn’t going to happen. I think he really pushed the envelope, and since he was blackmailing them, I don’t feel as sorry for his death as I probably should. He is just a real ass in the end.
So because Bunny is blackmailing the fantastic 4, the only option to them is to commit another murder, really? Didn’t they ever hear the saying two wrongs don’t make a right? Then when Richard is told all this, again for some unknown reason he sides with the fantastic 4, and even becomes an accessory in Bunny’s murder. I don’t understand Richard’s thought process, I mean it’s not like the fantastic 4 are a great bunch of people, what is the draw?
And the plans, the elaborate and complicated schemes that Henry originally came up with, poisoned mushrooms, creating a whole back-story, and then they just push him off a cliff. Seemed a bit haphazard and out of character. Also it was dull, the murder was boring, they waited on a path, when he came up they pushed him off the cliff. No arguments, no excitement, just bye bye.
The search for Bunny's body took forever to find and the funeral was a joke. Then Richard is having nightmares, Francis is having panic attacks, Charles has become a drunkard. Guilt? About freaking time. From the moment I found out Charles was angry at Camilla and Henry I knew that they were sleeping together and that was what Charles was so angry about. What I didn’t see coming was that Charles and Camille was in some incestual relationship not just a onetime thing for the bacchanal. Ewwww. Totally made me think of Flowers in the Attic.
I was happy when Richard began to connect the dots and see that Henry had masterminded and manipulated the whole situation. What I am confused about is why he did it? I mean he just ended up killing himself, so what was the point? I thought Henry was going to kill Charles and because Richard was shot call it defense. I agree turning the gun on himself was out of the blue and it didn’t seem in line with the character. I also thought that Henry trying to kill Charles and I thought maybe Henry killed them all and Richard was writing his memoirs so that when Henry came for him the authorities would know who did it. I was just hoping for a better ending I guess.
The reading bored me, the storyline is slow and this academia stuff makes me want to nap. I want the book to hurry up and get to the action of the murder already, then it skips it and goes to the boring aftermath. None of the characters are likable, and mostly they are bores, literally. Although, on a side note, I think Bunny would have been a great employee of Mr. Wednesday from American Gods. I sort of wish we had Bunny’s perspective of things. I didn’t absolutely hate this book like I have some we read earlier in the year, but I won’t re-read it either. I finished it and on time so that is an accomplishment.