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Set in a prestigious college in Vermont in the 1980s, Donna Tartt’s The Secret History begins with a murder. It is not a new book – published in 1992, it has been around for more than 25 years. It is simultaneously a psychological analysis, a detective story, and a murder mystery, except it is not about who did it but rather a 600-page-long rambling story about why.We see the events of the novel through the eyes of Richard Papen, who arrives at Hampden College as an outsider. Ashamed of a childhood spent in a working-class family in a silicon village in The Middle of Nowhere, California, he reinvents himself and, by chance, finds himself accepted into an exclusive and close-knit circle of classics students taught by Julian Morrow, who is at once bizarrely charming and brilliant and odd.He is not alone, though: each of the characters in their little clique is just as eccentric. There is Henry, who ridiculously wealthy and the true scholar of the group (his pet project, of all things, is translating Paradise Lost into Latin). Henry is intriguing and charismatic but equally capable of being cold and manipulative. Then there is Francis, a wealthy, high-strung socialite, and the twins, Charles and Camilla, who are both beautiful and inseparable. The last member of the group is poor Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran, who, as we find out in the first sentence of the prologue, is dead, and they are the ones who killed him.The rest of the book is divided into two sections, before and after what happens, and what happens is…far-fetched, to say the least. Based on Julian’s teachings, they decide to carry out an ancient Dionysian ritual. Unfortunately, some poor farmer ends up brutally murdered in the process and Bunny – who, sadly, wasn’t invited – finds out, using it as blackmail in some misguided form of revenge. As the rest of the characters live in fear of being discovered, a logical solution is proposed: to kill him too. It is only through Donna Tartt’s writing and the gloomy, almost alien atmosphere of the novel that these melodramatic events actually become believable.Although I felt that the overly dramatic and somewhat absurd plot fit the overall style and mood of the novel, it is definitely something that will not appeal to everyone. The book is filled with words you have to look up, obscure classics references and untranslated quotes. Although it is set up as a thriller about a murder, it is also a book about a lot of other things: friendship, tragedy, love, ethics, beauty, and most of all, human nature.Despite this, I found it to be a beautifully written book that I greatly enjoyed reading. I would recommend it to fans of the author’s other works or fans of similar books such as The Basic Eight, If We Were Villains, or Special Topics in Calamity Physics. It is also a good choice for anyone with an interest in classics or psychological fiction.

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