Donna Tartt’s The Secret History

There is probably much more to be said about Donna Tartt and her debut novel. What I am going to share here is, as always, some thoughts and impressions which I had during my first meeting with her.

What I will start with is a praise of the way she uses the language. I liked a lot the pace and level of elaboration, often being a bit of a challenge for a non-native speaker like me. Whenever she swayed away from the strict flow of the history, I was pleasantly diving into her contemplations and meditations, expressed in a solemn and beautifully measured way. The main narrative flow of hers was soaked with her erudition in a way I think would be enough for any reader without a previous background of Classical culture or further knowledge of Antiquity. I wished this notion was a bit more developed, though, understanding well that, on the other hand, that might have driven back many a readers. Tartt had implemented an ancient cult of ecstatic origin in a modern closed society which gives a bit of chamber impression. This restrictedness in the character-drive was giving me a suffocating feeling at some moments, though the author’s pace was not allowed to intrude very much into the strings tightening up the member of the small circle in focus. That anxious aesthetics remains almost until the end, reaching its highest in the last chapter when the full spectrum of inner decay, prognosticated previously by the atmosphere which the actions and the words of the main characters nit little by little, is suddenly revealed in a whole new level.

Here comes one of the issues I had with the book, I wished it had gone a bit more deeper of the different surface it was touching. To my mind, the volume of the book allows such kind of introspections, if, for example, the narration was not “overflowing its banks” now and then, mainly in dialogues and scenes I had problems with understanding their place and role in the whole decently built structure. I understand that this method could be regarded as a mean to provide the reader with a indirect insight of the atmosphere and the environment in which the action was going and for my taste it was not such a successful move. My general issue with ‘The Secret History’ was that it was a bit too ‘realistic’ for my taste; I would have felt better had it stepped a bit further in the metaphysics of at least some of the main notions presented. But, probably, if that had been accomplished, it would simply not have been Donna Tartt then.

Last episodes, though, won me somehow. I was absorbing the text, literally taking every possible free moment to dive into the atmosphere of this New England campus. I had gathered some tedious sentiment and was a bit disappointed by the book which had started with heightening some decent levels of expectations but the final chapter was worth the way. It is there that one can estimate the whole internal structure of the book and the talent of Tartt in building the subtle symmetries of the story.

For me, exactly this was the secret history – those fibres, psychological tights, pathologies and projections of false plentitude keeping the characters in a network, gravitated by the same fake-natured-ness of their teacher (and, more or less, guru, idol, somehow emanation of the Beauty and its dreadfulness). It is normal for such system to gather tension and it is a matter of time for this tension to be released. The reader know what this release has lead to from the very first lines of the novel. It is revealed to them, though, slowly and thoroughly by the mastery of Donna Tartt, what exactly kinds of mechanisms have led to the metamrphosis of the kaloi-kai-agahoi into something beyond the human perceptions of aesthetics, moral and virtues, and, eventually, to death

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