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REALJimBob

Fortysomething, photographer slacker, working in IT, living in Greenwich; failed polymath; drinks and eats too much, reads too little...

The Secret History - Donna Tartt The second book in the Louise Recommends challenge – where Louise gets to force a book on me every three months. She said [a:Donna Tartt|8719|Donna Tartt|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/authors/1380323240p2/8719.jpg]'s [b:The Secret History|70897|The Secret History|Donna Tartt|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1327764557s/70897.jpg|221359] was her favourite book – of all time – what if I didn't like it? So determined was she that, having misplaced her own copy, she went out and bought a new one just so I would have no excuse. Reading the sleeve notes it's a novel about a bunch of kids studying classics at university. Sounded pretty dull. I saved it up for a nice long flight to Boston (I hate that the flight attendants get totally overworked about reading a Kindle during take-off and landing, so now I just take at least two big paperbacks with me as well – this trip I took five, but those reviews will hopefully come later) and read pretty much three-quarters of it on that flight. The remaining chapters I raced through in the next two days inbetween exploring beautiful autumnal Boston.

Luckily, it's not dull. Far from it. It's not even really that much about kids studying classics. Instead what it actually is, is a tightly crafted murder mystery. Although without much of the mystery – we know that Bunny is going to die pretty much from the first page; and we know that the rest of the group are all party to the murder. But we don't know how it's going to happen and we don't know when. Even more confusingly, Tartt continues to break with agreed murder-mystery traditions by having the murder, that we already know about, take place slap-bang in the middle of the book. Suddenly you're left wondering what the remaining 324 pages are going to be about. But, don't worry, it's all perfectly handled. The two halves of the book are like the two sides of a hill. The first half takes us into the cast, the situation and the build up to the murder – the reasons why the characters believe the murder has to happen – then the second half is the fall-out, the repercussions (and there are always repercussions even if there's no Poirot character to sort the whole mess out with his little grey cells) and the recriminations as the group tries to come to terms with what it's done.

Our narrator is Richard Papen and, while the story revolves entirely around his experiences, he seems somewhat unreliable. He lies quite openly during his story on several occasions, sometimes drawing attention to it in his narration, sometimes just letting us spot the lies for what they are. Obviously that throws the rest of his story into some doubt, and while that's not really a problem, it does potentially add another layer of confusion. Richard is a young lad struggling to find his place at college, when he decides to apply to transfer to Hampden College: a university in Vermont. Here his need to be accepted by peer groups takes on a new life. Or two new lives to more specific. In one he's living the shallow university dream of booze, drugs, girls and hangovers, and not really enjoying it too much. In the other he attaches himself to a very select teaching group of misfit students – Henry, Bunny, Camilla, Charles and Francis – and their teacher Julian Morrow. This is the only group he teaches and his condition is that he is the only teacher they have. An already perfectly formed clique that Richard is desperate to be a part of. Actually, the whole cast of the novel are misfits, from the students, to the teachers, and even further out to the families and parents. There's barely a likeable character in the book. Yet somehow, Tartt manages to make this weird sounding book about a bunch of pretty unlikeable classics nerds who commit a murder of one of their own, and where the murder is clearly explained on page one, and has happened by the middle of the book, totally gripping. I had to put the book down frequently during those two days because I was on holiday and supposed to be out doing stuff, but I didn't want to.