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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Mt Holyoke chapter.

It was the week of April 8th. I had two midterms and an essay to write, but regardless of the work piling up around me, I found myself in the library picking up a book I had requested from Amherst College’s library: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I was immediately enraptured, telling myself “I’ll start studying after I finish this chapter,” or “I’ll study later, I’m still being productive by reading.” All lies, but I told myself them sincerely and wholeheartedly, as I knew I would not be able to put the book down until I was through with it and had spent hours silently processing the masterpiece I had just read. 

I immediately grow wary of a book that introduces the pinnacle conflict in the opening chapter. The mystery is stripped away, and I then find reading further to be no more than a task to get to what was already stated; however, Donna Tartt shifted my view of this as her opening lines immediately pulled me in. I knew what the story was inevitably leading towards, but I couldn’t help the plethora of questions bouncing around in my brain, begging to be answered. Why did they murder Bunny? How did they get away with it? Does he regret murdering him, or just how the murder played out? Will the narrator’s “fatal flaw” lead him to depict a fabricated, glamorized version of the events that occurred? 

I think the main reason I was unable to put the book down was Richard Papen, the narrator, who, for most of the book, is inebriated, doped up, depressed, repressing his sexuality, and yet is still romanticizing this deranged, detached-from-reality group of college students. When Richard said in the beginning of the book that his fatal flaw was “a morbid longing for the picturesque at all costs,” he meant it with his whole heart. Richard focuses in on the most absurd details, making me laugh out loud. He doesn’t blink an eye as he quickly depicts Henry describing the Bacchanal they performed, or Francis blatantly stating that almost everyone in the group has been involved with each other, including the twins. Instead, Richard goes into the minutest of details, describing what the other characters were wearing and how intellectual they sounded. Another interesting aspect of Richard is his repressed homosexuality, as he spends multiple pages describing Camilla’s boyish beauty and how identical she looks to Charles, and years later he rushes to Francis’ side when he receives a dire letter.

Donna Tartt is an incredibly skilled author who makes the absurd seem perfectly normal and the normal seem outlandish in order to fully submerge the readers in the characters’ mindsets. By the middle of the book, Henry had me convinced that the only plausible solution to his problem was to murder Bunny. This is absurd — I, along with what I hope would be all my college friends, could never fathom murdering someone. Additionally, Richard and the rest of the classics majors’ cult-like group enables them to put themselves on a higher pedestal than the other students, and I found myself going along with it. Tartt paints non-classics majors like Judy Poovey to be crazy, dumb, college students, yet Henry didn’t know the moon landing happened, can’t do math, and uses kerosene lamps in his apartment despite this book taking place in the 1980s. Tartt portrays the characters so realistically as she makes them acknowledge their desires and has them sit with the consequences of their actions. The more characters you bring into a story, the harder it is to fully understand or resonate with each, but Donna Tartt, with the help of Richard’s narrations, clearly lets you into the inner workings of all six characters, each with clear aspirations, struggles, and history. 

 I could rave about this book for hours, and I was left questioning if I needed to declare a classics major and head up to Vermont. Donna Tartt questions how heavily we value the aesthetic of life, and if this can lead to detrimental life choices. The book covers a wide range of topics from sexuality, class divisions, belonging, peer pressure (though I would classify what goes down as something much stronger than peer pressure), grief, identity, and maybe even friendship. I would highly recommend this book to anyone that loves a page turner and the dark academia aesthetic (just like Richard Papen and the rest of them). There’s so much lore and details hidden between the pages that I’d recommend not only reading this book, but immediately rereading it! 

Keira Shinnick

Mt Holyoke '27

Hi, I'm Keira, a freshman at Mount Holyoke and undecided in my major. I love crocheting, reading, listening to all different types of music, and hiking when I can! I'm obsessed with my dogs, statement jewelry, journaling, and getting a little sweet treat after anything and everything.