The delight of the discovery of a new author whose novel is thrilling and captivating is a rare and wonderful treat. The discovery that the author has other treasures to unearth is like the great dinner party that doesn’t end and the convivial conversation will continue.
Sometimes the first novel you read by any given author is the highlight and the peak of a limited mountain. An anomaly, however engaging, but one that is not replicated. I found this to be the case with the works of Gillian Flynn. I could not put down Gone Girl but when I read her other tomes – Dark Places and Sharp Objects, I was frustrated by their inadequacy. On their own they may have been satisfying enough, but having read Gone Girl, they really were the poor cousins of Flynn’s collection. It almost took the shine off the great experience of reading Gone Girl. Happily, this has not been the case with my experience of the works of Donna Tartt. At the end of last year I read The Goldfinch (I wrote about it here). Loved. Loved. Loved. It was with slight trepidation that I embarked on her first novel, The Secret History. Would it live up to the same standard as her previous work? Oh lord I hoped so.
And indeed it did. The Secret History is a coming of age novel set in an east-coast American University at a time in the not too distant past (but definitely before mobile phones and the Internet which I have now come to realise makes the time seem further away than it really is). Narrator and hapless protagonist Richard Papen shares the defining moment of his formative years and the characters that shaped his future. The story centres on the death of one of Richard’s friends and class-mates; both the preamble and epilogue to this watershed event. Surrounded by his motley crew of intellectual misfits, Richard struggles to fit into this eccentric and very private group.
Eventually Richard ingratiates himself to become part of their inner circle but once he does, a perverse world of secret rituals, incestuous relationships and dark demons is revealed. Their shared love of the classics and language is marred by their misguided deeds. There are some very sinister and bleak consequences that are sometimes shocking and sometimes predictable. But this novel is never dull and having completed it fairly recently, I look back on it with the same affection I do the film Dead Poets’ Society. Smart. Warm. Endearing. Depressing. And full of frenetic Love.