Posted by: markfender | May 6, 2014

The Secret History

“This is the only story I will ever be able to tell.”

secret historyI stumbled across The Secret History in my local library. It had a cool acetate cover. It sounded intriguing. During the course of my reading, however, I realized that I was reading something pretty spectacular. By the end of the Prologue, when the above line is written, I was well and truly hooked.

The Secret History revolves around Richard, a new student to a prestigious New England school and the insular Greek program. Which sounds sort of boring, until we slot in the murder, the subsequent cover-up, and the Bacchanalian revels. The characters are all extremely well-read and educated, having bizarre conversations about Greek ideas as fluently as they would discuss the latest disaster movie on TV. They all consume copious amounts of alcohol. Richard manages to become one of them while at the same remaining separated, able to dissect the changes in their friendships as the murder that they are all covering up consumes their lives.

I mentioned it in my post about Donna Tartt’s new book, The Goldfinch, but it’s probably worth point out again that the main characters of those two books possess similar characteristics. Richard knows a hell of a lot about clothes, drinks like a fish, seemingly indulges in more drug use than even he admits to himself, and suffers from a slight inferiority complex due to the fact that all of his friends are smarter than him. That, of course, doesn’t stop him from being an intellectual in his own right, but it’s interesting to not have the first-person narrator be the smartest person in the room.

This book, at its core, is about the sublime, in the strictest Kantian terms (I just drove you away screaming, didn’t I?). It’s not necessary to pick up on the subtext here, but the idea of terrifying beauty and grandeur works its way through the multiple threads in this book. One of the strangest parts is the funeral of Bunny, which is definitely the funniest funeral I’ve ever read. I should not be laughing at a funeral, and yet, the ridiculous characters of Bunny’s family were more amusing than they had any right to be. It’s a weird way to write a funeral, but it completely works in context to show the otherworldly nature of the entire proceedings.

If you have any fondness for Ivy League settings, want to know more about blazers, think philosophy is an interesting course of study, or just like an engaging story written in a free and easy manner with a bevy of interesting protagonists, I highly recommend this book. It sits pretty high in my pantheon of good books (Yes, I have a pantheon).


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