skygiants: Kraehe from Princess Tutu embracing Mytho with one hand and holding her other out to a flock of ravens (uses of enchantment)
[personal profile] skygiants
Q: Why did you read The Secret History, a book all about death and specifically about the untimely death of a young man, on your way home to sit shiva for a young man who died an untimely death?
A: idk I just grabbed the first long-looking paperback off my shelf I hadn't read before?? In retrospect, I realize it is possible more forethought should have gone into this.

Q: When and where does The Secret History take place?
A: Where: a small liberal arts college in Vermont where everybody is either doing drugs or murders. When: I HAVE NO IDEA. I spent the entire book desperately grappling for temporal clues. Someone mentions learning about the moon landing! "Ah," I think, with relief, "late 1960s." Then 'Free Bird' comes on the radio! OK .. 1970s? "We sat around with margaritas and watched MTV." When did MTV even start? Are we suddenly nineties kids now?? WE JUST DON'T KNOW. On the other hand, it is entirely possible that I missed some obvious statement like "It Is 1989 Now," as I was not necessarily in my best state of mind for noticing details while reading this book, see above.

Q: You mentioned murder?
A: Yes! Definitely murder! This is not a spoiler, as murder happens on the first page before we flash back to happier, pre-murder times in the beautiful Vermont fall.

Q: Do the students get away with murder?
A: I see what you're doing there, and yes, I am pretty positive that the people who wrote or at least conceived of How To Get Away With Murder were strongly influenced by The Secret History. Although How To Get Away With Murder is much less white.

Q: What about women?
A: How To Get Away With Murder also has many more women.

Q: I don't watch How To Get Away With Murder! What else is like The Secret History?
A: OK, imagine that you put Nick and Gatsby into a blender together until you come up with one smooth-surfaced social-climbing desperately insecure bystander, and then you drop this blended narrator whom for convenience we shall call Natsby in the middle of a bunch of highly-strung Classics majors who think they're in a Mary Renault novel, complete with beloved psychodramatic tropes (sad queer kids! uncomfortably close twins! the protagonist almost freezing to death in a Vermont attic before being rescued by the most intense and highly-strung Classics major of all! everybody quoting Greek all the time!) and wrap it all up in extremely accomplished prose. In case you were wondering, The American Dream Remains A Lie.

Q: So ... did you like The Secret History or not?
A: I found it compelling and page-turney and interesting to think about structurally as an exercise in dubiously reliable narration and shifting character perception! I also think probably for maximum appreciation I should have read it as an 18-year-old with a Lot of Feelings about emotionally disturbed teenagers who quote Greek at each other, or at the very least not at the time when as it turns out I did in fact read it, return to top.

Date: 2017-04-06 04:16 am (UTC)
sovay: (I Claudius)
From: [personal profile] sovay
a bunch of highly-strung Classics majors who think they're in a Mary Renault novel, complete with beloved psychodramatic tropes (sad queer kids! uncomfortably close twins! the protagonist almost freezing to death in a Vermont attic before being rescued by the most intense and highly-strung Classics major of all! everybody quoting Greek all the time!)

I thought for years I had read The Secret History, but it eventually turned out I had it confused with Elizabeth Hand's Waking the Moon (1994), which has more overt Dionysos and a lot more women.

Date: 2017-04-06 04:32 am (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
MTV: that's probably a throwaway aside and you totally know because of your work, but it poked a memory.

I remember because my cousin's household had cable. MTV started in 1981, but it didn't gain visibility (even amongst cable-subscribers, which required nontrivial $$ compared to recently) till 1984ish. There weren't enough artists making neat videos, either; compare A-Ha's "Take On Me" and Olivia Newton-John's "Twist of Fate," both from 1984. Cyndi Lauper's "Girls Just Wanna" has to be in here, too; it's from 1983.

I had a hard time caring about The Secret History as a book and a story. Premise: interesting. Execution: maybe I'm too much a Californian or something. Also, I tried SH in my mid-thirties, but Dean's Tam Lin will always be the high-strung Classics major novel for me because I met it a hair before college.

Date: 2017-04-08 09:56 pm (UTC)
thistleingrey: (Default)
From: [personal profile] thistleingrey
at heart they're made out of different things

That's certainly true, and I didn't mean to imply that they're close. Maybe I'm just getting old--it's become harder to read about college students without feeling vaguely and distractingly parental--or maybe I've worked for too many years at universities....

Date: 2017-04-06 04:47 am (UTC)
kore: (Default)
From: [personal profile] kore

(I actually shrieked)

....I wasn't 18 when I read it, but I was young enough (early twenties?) that when I did I really liked it, but I suspect it has not aged at all well because even then I wanted to drown the narrator in a bucket and the treatment of the ONE major female character made me unhappy. But I had already imprinted on Tam Lin in a public library edition as a teenager.

Date: 2017-04-06 04:54 am (UTC)
monanotlisa: Diana as Diana Prince in glasses and a hat, lifting the rim of the latter rakishly. HOT! (Default)
From: [personal profile] monanotlisa

I note, I love this book desperately, the way only a young lower-middle-class European can -- dreaming about places and people that don't even exist and have never existed quite like this pure academia murder fantasy.

Date: 2017-04-06 05:02 am (UTC)
whimsyful: arang_1 (Default)
From: [personal profile] whimsyful
I think this got recced to me once as a "you loved Tam Lin and Gaudy Night, here's another novel set in college with mysteries and lots of quotations!" Never got around to reading it, and now I really don't regret it.

Date: 2017-04-06 05:32 am (UTC)
starlady: Raven on a MacBook (Default)
From: [personal profile] starlady
I did read it as an eighteen year old who quoted Greek (literally: it was a high school graduation present from my head of school) and I did love it to bits, and mostly still do. I always assumed it was set sort of early/mid-90s and the remark about the moon landing was just to indicate how much of a rock that character lived under.

I liked The Little Friend too, though at this point I'd probably just advise people to reread Harriet the Spy instead. I haven't read The Goldfinch (yet).

Date: 2017-04-06 06:00 am (UTC)
agonistes: (pyramid of greatness)
From: [personal profile] agonistes
two things, both related to my line of work:

1) donna tartt has ties to oxford, mississippi that i have never bothered clarifying, but strong enough that the secret history has an eponymous omelet on (link goes to pdf) the menu of what is perhaps the greatest breakfast place in america. what is the omelet? seasonal fresh herbs, tomatoes, shallots, and swiss, with choice of side (grits, home fries, fruit, sweet potato hash -- do the home fries) and toast or biscuit (biscuit, obviously).

(i always elected a ham, cheddar, and spinach omelet, and regardless of what goes in it, those omelets are the fluffiest gd things i have ever seen and i literally dream about them.)

2) in the land of my (and her???) people, "freebird" is the actual national anthem and is thus timeless, so it is a bad temporal anchor and connotes great respect.

Date: 2017-04-06 10:24 am (UTC)
st_aurafina: Rainbow DNA (Default)
From: [personal profile] st_aurafina
I also think probably for maximum appreciation I should have read it as an 18-year-old with a Lot of Feelings

Omg, so true. I love this review so much! It's caught the spirit of the book, honestly.

Date: 2017-04-06 01:55 pm (UTC)
musesfool: text icon: O swear not by the moon, th' inconstant moon (swear not by the moon)
From: [personal profile] musesfool
This is a great review of a book that I did not love the way I expected to (and the way other people I think expected me to), mostly because I just did not like anyone in it, and I much preferred Elizabeth Hand's Waking the Moon even though to this day I'm still not sure what exactly went on in it.

Date: 2017-04-06 05:25 pm (UTC)
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)
From: [personal profile] vass
Thank you for increasing my determination not to read this book even though it has emotionally disturbed teenagers quoting Greek at each other (which would normally be my jam.)

[personal profile] kate_nepveu wrote a review of it one time that put me off so strongly that I didn't read AS Byatt's Possession for years and years because I got it and The Secret History mixed up and thought Possession was the one I'd read that review about.

I'm sorry for your loss.
Edited Date: 2017-04-06 05:26 pm (UTC)

Date: 2017-04-08 02:44 pm (UTC)
vass: Jon Stewart reading a dictionary (books)
From: [personal profile] vass
Not so much a review as a one-liner on her paired readings page. Both TSH and Possession were described as books that would pair interestingly with Tam Lin.

Date: 2017-04-12 02:17 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] plinythemammaler
I - was a Classics major and I remember getting REALLY REALLY ANGRY because I read it post graduation and was convinced there was a grammatical mistake with their Greek which I now am not even sure there was, or that I had the reason to nitpick??

although oh my GOD i still have the tumblr post somewhere about how "be strong, saith my heart"... quote is NOWHERE IN THE WHOLE OF HOMER, I CHECKED, I HAVE RECEIPTS

in conclusion i remember nothing about - the actual book except the part where he was really cold in a building. my priorities are skewed.

Date: 2017-05-07 02:57 pm (UTC)
nevanna: (Books!)
From: [personal profile] nevanna
Your assessment of The Secret History (including the whiteness of the cast and the dubious treatment of the ladies) is absolutely correct.

All of that said, I'm really fond of that book, and probably would be even if I hadn't attended the college on which Hampden is based, though that certainly helped.
I loved the atmosphere the unlikable-but-fascinating cast of characters. And I think that I read it at the perfect time in my life: when I was twenty, on winter break from said college, and questioning whether I wanted to continue attending (and I did, in fact, end up transferring out). I find TSH to be extremely re-readable to this day, even though, like you, I'll always love Tam Lin more.

Date: 2017-05-08 12:33 pm (UTC)
nevanna: (Default)
From: [personal profile] nevanna
There is a lot of Bennington College in Tartt's construction of Hampden.


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