The Secret History

I hoover up book recommendations. From family. From friends. From business contacts. Wherever I go, whoever I’m with, I’m always on the hunt for suggestions of books that I might love.

I do it with films as well, but somehow there’s something more satisfying about settling down with a new book and knowing within a few sentences that you’re going to be engrossed.

And I’m not the only one who does it. It’s social media in a pre-Facebook age. For instance, I stayed over at a friend’s house the other day and she had had a friend round earlier that day who had left a list of five books on a Post It note in her kitchen. One of which was The Secret History.

Now, nothing’s better than a recommendation of a book you haven’t read, but sometimes it’s good to be reminded of a book that you have read and loved, particularly if it was a while ago.

And I read Donna Tartt’s extraordinary first novel a few years ago now, but remember very clearly even now just how much I loved it.

Set in the rarefied environment a New England college (a familiar setting, it seems for American novels), it’s the story of a close-knit and socially exclusive group of classics students, who host a Bacchanal during which one of their number kills a local farmer.

As this takes place at the beginning of the book, it’s not a murder mystery as such, but rather the story of the tensions in the group caused by this incident and the impact it has on their lives both at college and subsequently.

It’s well worth a read and if you do enjoy it as much as I did, then try also Bret Easton Ellis’s The Rules Of Attraction (which contains oblique references to The Secret History) and also Tobias Woolf’s Old School.

Amazingly, given her success with The Secret History while still in her 20s, Tartt herself has published only one novel after this – The Little Friend, published 10 years later in 2002. It’s also a good read but suffers by comparison.

Although I remain in awe of anyone who can write one great novel, let alone two or more...

The Secret History by Donna Tart