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Why You Should Read ‘The Secret History’

The opinions expressed in this article are the writer’s own and do not reflect the views of Her Campus.
This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Wilfrid Laurier chapter.

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.” That’s the first line of The Secret History. If it doesn’t immediately intrigue you, even just a little bit, I don’t know what else would.

Donna Tartt’s 1992 novel takes place in New England, following a group of five university students who murder their classmate, Bunny. This book is heavy in its foreshadowing, announcing the events that lead to Bunny’s death and the unravelling of this once tight-knit group of friends.

I was very late to the party; I didn’t read The Secret History until well after it was trending on TikTok. With the rise of aesthetics in pop culture, The Secret History rightfully took place as the basis of the dark academia aesthetic.

However, don’t let that fool you! This book is so much more than a simplistic aesthetic. It’s a complex, character-driven narrative, shrouded in mystery and satire. Ironically, it pokes fun at a lot of the conventions of the dark academia subculture on social media, while providing a host of other social commentary.

The story is told by Richard Papen, who decides to take a Greek class as an elective. However, there’s a catch: this class isn’t just open to anyone. The professor, Julian, only teaches five students. They’re all classics majors and all their classes are taught by Julian. Despite the glaring red flags, Richard pleads with Julian, drops all his other classes, and is granted admission into the Greek class, now made up of six students.

Although the plot of the book is well-crafted, fully fleshed-out and extremely engaging, it’s not my favourite thing about the book.  My favourite thing is the fact that we see the book through Richard’s eyes.

I’m obsessed with unreliable narrators. I think some of the best books are narrated by characters that you can’t really trust. Richard is no exception. He’s a perfect stand-in for the readers. He’s an outsider to the Greek class. As he navigates their world and befriends the students, he learns their secrets just as the readers do. However, Richard’s need to be accepted by his new friends means that we, the audience, have no idea whether he is lying about the events of his story. As we know from the very first line, Richard is implicit in Bunny’s murder. Even though he recounts all the events, we don’t know how much (or how little) of the chaos was caused by his direct contribution.

If you like a good murder-mystery, an unreliable cast of characters, and pretentious preaching about ancient Greek, this book should be at the top of your TBR. It’s guaranteed to get you out of a horrid reading slump!

Bhavya Jagdev

Wilfrid Laurier '25

Bhavya is a third-year BBA student at Wilfrid Laurier University. She loves to read (her favourite genres are fantasy and mystery) and spend a little too much money at Starbucks. She also enjoys travelling, spending time with her friends and family and (of course) writing.