How far can prose alone carry a novel? Your answer to that question will determine how much you’ll enjoy The Secret History. Donna Tartt’s debut novel about six Classics students at an elite New Hampshire university is told in lyrical, measured prose that makes its length much more tolerable than it would be with a lesser literary light. However, the preposterous nature of the story combined with the author’s moral equivocation and weak plotting make the novel difficult to like despite the beauty of the language.
Tartt’s novel suffers first and foremost from the unsustainable conflict between her high style and the novel’s setting, specifically in regards to time. The story takes place in the 1980s but Tartt’s language is strictly 19th century and her characters would seem more at home in the 1930s or so. Sure, they are trust-fund babies in every decade, but the mannerisms of these old-money twits are not of the kind that you’d find in any of our lifetimes.
Basically, this book is a big, long meh that I only finished because of flight delays.