‘The Secret History’ follows academia mystery


Alayna Pellegrin

Murder, mystery and mayhem are common themes in dark academia novels, but “The Secret History” is composed of twists and turns that make an unpredictable plot.

“The Secret History” by Donna Tartt was an instant success after being published in September 1992. Just as the novel awed readers decades ago, it is now catching the attention of many book lovers on TikTok.

Set over a school year, Tartt’s novel is a captivating thriller that follows a tightly wound group of students learning Ancient Greek. Together they revel in the beauty of the ancient world but eventually become tied together by a dark secret.

“The Secret History” is an inverted detective story narrated by Richard Papen, one of the six students studying classics under an eccentric professor at

a small college in rural Vermont. The narrator and main character, Papen, reflects upon the events that led to the murder of their friend and fellow classmate Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran.

Clear yet complex language is used throughout the novel. Tartt used a lot of strange descriptive wording, which made it difficult to understand how she illustrated things.

Tartt also made many references to foreign works of literature. Though these works are popular, they are not something that is in every reader’s vocabulary.

Papen beautifully narrates the novel, but the confusing words and references that are thrown throughout the book really throw off personal enjoyment.

The pacing of the novel is perfect in the beginning, but it slows near the middle. Tartt added extensive detail to events that didn’t add anything to the plot.

Papen remains passive throughout the book, which could be boring. He doesn’t get involved around campus or join his friends, but he turns out to be helpful as he watches and translates what goes on around him.

Picking the best part of any book is extremely difficult, but it was very easy to decide that every character, even those in the background, is what made “The Secret History” so great. Each character is so detailed that it feels like you know them personally.

The atmosphere and setting were established strongly in the beginning, and this ambiance is kept throughout the whole novel.

It is refreshing to be so immersed in a book that it feels like we are observers watching these characters and events unfold.