Friday, 5 February 2021

The Secret History by: Donna Tartt

 Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Dark Academia 

Published: April 13, 2004 by: Vintage 

Pages: 559 

Rating: 1/5 stars 

TW: Murder, Blood and Gore, Torture, Sexual Assault, Incest, Addiction, Suicide, Panic Attacks 

*As you can see, this book has its fair share of disturbing content, and for that reason, my review will contain a discussion of some of these topics that may be triggering to some readers. 

Richard Papen has made his way into the elite Hampden College in Vermont, in order to study Ancient Greek. He is soon intrigued by one of the Classics professors, Julian Marrow, who keeps his enrollment strictly to a small group of students: Twins Charles and Camilla, Francis Abernathy, Henry Winter, and Edmund "Bunny" Corcoran, who is an extremely wealthy bigot. Richard is able to make his way into this mysterious group, but soon begins to regret that decision after the group becomes entangled in a murder that they have all sworn to keep quiet about. 

*Warning: rant review ahead. If you are looking for a professionally written review that is free of hyperboles, then this review is not for you. Also, I just want to say that I know this book is super popular and a staple of the dark academia genre, and this post is not meant to hate on anyone who loved this book or who loves dark academia. We all have different book tastes, and that's ok. Everyone's opinion is valid. However, I do have issues with this genre that I have been pondering for a long time, and I want to discuss them.

It's been a long while since I've written a rant review, so *cracks knuckles,* here we go. This book incited a rage in me that I could not describe. This book began and ended my relationship with dark academia. This book ruined Greek Mythology for me. (Ok, that last part is an extreme stretch. Nothing can ruin my love for Greek Mythology. But, I'll stick to the Percy Jackson series). I did not like this book. It had no redeeming qualities. Let's talk about why. 

I do not think the dark academia genre is for me. And this is no hate towards people who like it, but I just do not think I would be able to tolerate reading another book about privileged white kids who commit heinous acts of violence without any repercussions. And I'm supposed to like these characters? Nope, no thank you. Richard was a naive idiot. Charles and Camilla were creepy. I had some sympathy for Camilla, but her actions were still unforgivable. Francis was complacent. And don't get me started on Bunny. I did not grieve once for that arrogant asshole. *spoiler hidden* This is such a character driven novel, so you'd think that to enjoy it, you'd have to enjoy reading about the characters. But these characters were the absolute worst, and I did not like them one bit. 

The plot is also a whole bunch of nothingness. This novel was so incredibly wordy, and for no reason whatsoever. Even though this book has two murders in it, it didn't feel like this novel had any concept of rising action, climax, and falling action. It was all over the place, disorganized, with most of the scenes just being comprised of a bunch of unhealthy behaviours. I couldn't see why these scenes would be appealing to read. 

This book was also way too triggering for me. It deals with some seriously dark things. But it does not deal with these subjects in a sensitive way. Characters receive no consequences for their actions, and extremely dark issues are left unresolved and brushed under the rug. Why did the author have to put in so many gruesome, disturbing moments, but not resolve them? Was this just to leave your readers disturbed? Well, it succeeded. 

I couldn't deal with how pretentious this book was. All of these characters seemed to speak down onto me. This book almost creates the idea that these elite students are better than everyone else, which is certainly not the case because they all suck. I just think if you're going to write dark academia, you have to address the ways in which the post-secondary system is inherently elitist, racist, and pretentious. You have to discuss how the post-secondary system fails marginalized students. This book did none of that, although it did certainly give us some elitist, racist and pretentious characters. 

I was excited for this book because I love Greek mythology novels. I will usually love anything that makes reference to mythology. But this book takes Greek mythology and turns it into this elite concept that is only accessible to the privileged few. And this upset me, because mythology is for everyone, and should be accessible to everyone! I just think this was not the mythology book I was looking for, and I will be sticking to what I know from now on. 

Yeah, so I hated this. It left me stressed out and angry. I totally get why it has received a lot of praise, and this is not hate towards anybody who loves dark academia and Tartt's novels. But, I hope that the few of you who don't like dark academia like me, don't feel afraid to share your unpopular opinions. Some books just aren't for everyone, and that's ok! 

Have you read The Secret History? What did you think? 

Emily @ Paperback Princess



  1. I've never read a dark academia book, but I understand where you're coming from.

    1. I don't think I'll be experimenting with the genre again tbh!

  2. Ha, I'd like to think that this review is at least partially due to my bad influence, but that wouldn't be giving you enough credit ;) (Joke! Promise! You go on being your bad-a** self Em <3 )

    I've never really felt the need to read this one - I mean, never say never, but I'm more interested in reading The Goldfinch than in reading this one. (And you know I have no patience for pretentiousness! Lol.)

    1. Haha, I don't see your influence as bad at all, Cee! If anything, you encourage me to speak my mind more, and that is a good thing :)

      I've heard great things from The Goldfinch. I think as a whole Tartt's writing is just not for me, but perhaps I'd be more likely to enjoy that one.

  3. Ooh I've wondered about this book. This is good to know. I do like character driven stories sometimes, but yes if I don't like the characters then that's a huge problem. they sound very unlikable here! And it sounds too like maybe this book was trying too hard to be "literary".

    I'm not sure either that I like the sound of the gruesomeness. I like dark, to an extent, but this more on the disturbing end. I think I will probably pass on this since I feel like I would have problems with it...

    1. I enjoy thrillers as well, but I think I enjoy them more on the YA end. We both share an interest in Karen M. McManus' books, and I think that is as dark as I can go when it comes to mystery/thrillers tbh.

      I think I'm more into a healthy balance between character and plot. I need the characters to be lovable, but I also need twists and turns in there.

  4. Dark Academia as an aesthetic is so pretty but honestly I'm too scared to delve more into the genre - I tried reading Ninth House and just couldn't get past the first 20 pages >_<

    1. I had Ninth House on my tbr but after seeing all the content warnings I was like yeah, I think this might scare me lol.

      I'm a pretty squeamish person and dark academia tends to hold nothing back. But I agree that the aesthetic is really nice! Maybe just give me the tweed coats and Greek mythology undertones without all the murder lol.