Have you ever read a book all the way through just to close it for the last time and say “wow, that was bleak”? Well, I’m here to make the case for those dark, dreary, haunting, and disturbing reads that keep you up at night long after you put them down. Welcome to Bleak Books with Olivia, your resident creepy book lover at the Aurora Public Library District.
So, you’ve just finished reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (or maybe you’ve seen the movie instead, I don’t judge!) and you’re on the hunt for another gripping thrill ride full of mystery, intrigue, and tons of dark academia themes. Why not reach for another Tartt novel? This sprawling narrative about a young man’s desire to just be something other than ordinary takes our main character, Richard, to dizzying highs and deep, deep valleys of low points as he tags along with quite possibly the most interesting people on campus: the tight-knit group of Classics students at Hampden College and their enigmatic professor, Julian Morrow.
The beginning of The Secret History shoves us face-first into the drama of it all: one of the Classics students has been murdered, and it was a group effort between the rest of the Classics Clan, as I like to call them. Now, you may be saying “Whoa! Spoiler Alert!” but this is all made clear in the exposition of the novel, just a few pages in, and even can be read on the jacket. The big mystery of the novel is why a group of friends this close would murder one of their own in cold blood? What does he know? Donna Tartt promises we are bound to find out.
The reveal is beyond jarring. While the beginning of the novel is slow and steady, introducing each member of the Classics Clan to Richard in painstaking detail, the moment we know why our dear friend Bunny is going to be murdered, we’re sent into a tailspin. We are taken alongside Richard as he makes the journey from average college student to an accomplice to murder, and Donna Tartt makes this transition so smoothly that you don’t even think to balk at this change in demeanor. The seduction to the mysterious, intriguing, and dangerous lives of Richard’s friends makes him blind to their true natures. Only after Bunny is gone do we see the group unravel. The act tears them apart in very unique ways, as the act of murder would to any sane person. And only then does Richard realize he has never truly known these people and never will.
What is so remarkable about this book to me is how I realized slowly that I am Richard. I too am just along for the ride, so in love with these interesting students that I can’t see they have manipulated me as well. I hate to admit it, but as the book came to a close, I still found each character so intriguing that I had forgiven them for their crimes and still wanted to sit down for a cup of coffee with them in the Hampden library. How twisted is that? Now, that is good writing.
Thank you for joining me on this dissection of one of my favorite Bleak Books. I hope to see you again sometime soon! Please take a look in the Adult Fiction section on the second floor of the Aurora Public Library for my favorite Bleak Books (including this one!) If you meet me in the library and have any Bleak Books suggestions, please let me know! I’m always looking for a new book to disrupt my life for a couple of weeks.