Published in 1992, The Secret History by Donna Tartt is a psychological thriller that tells the story of a group of six students at a small, exclusive college in New England who become involved in a murder plot.
The novel is narrated by Richard Papen, a transfer student from California who becomes fascinated with an elite group of students.
The group is led by Julian Morrow, a charismatic classics professor who teaches them ancient Greek and becomes a mentor to them.
As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that the group has become deeply immersed in their studies and in a way of life that is disconnected from the outside world.
They become involved in a series of events that lead to the murder of Edmund “Bunny” Corcoran, and the rest of the novel deals with the aftermath of this crime.
The novel explores themes of elitism, morality, guilt, and the search for identity.
Tartt’s writing style is highly descriptive and atmospheric, and the novel has been praised for its vivid portrayal of the college and its students.
The Secret History was a critical and commercial success, and it helped establish Tartt as a major literary talent.
If you are interested in the compelling themes to be found in The Secret History, you are sure to enjoy works such as The Lake of Dead Languages, Skein Island and We Were Liars to name just a few similar titles.
Themes In The Secret History
The novel explores the idea of a group of highly intelligent and privileged students who are isolated from the rest of society and who believe themselves to be superior to others.
This theme of elitism is explored through the characters’ attitudes toward other people, their beliefs about their superiority, and their actions throughout the novel.
The psychological consequences of the character’s actions and the effects of guilt on their lives is also a prominent theme throughout. The novel also explores the idea of collective guilt.
Through the portrayal of the character’s guilt, Tartt highlights the destructive nature of secrets and the consequences of immoral actions.
The theme of morality is explored through the characters’ relationships with each other and the outside world.
Their actions affect not only themselves but also those around them, with the novel highlighting the ripple effect of immorality on society as a whole.
The Search For Identity
The theme of the search for identity is explored through the characters’ motivations and actions and the theme itself reflects the broader cultural and societal changes of the 1980s, a time of increased individualism and questioning of traditional values.
Books Like The Secret History
This young adult novel follows the story of a wealthy and privileged family, the Sinclairs.
The story is narrated by Cadence Sinclair Eastman, the granddaughter of the family patriarch, and focuses on her relationships with her cousins, known as the “Liars”, during their annual summer vacations on the family’s private island.
- The novel is well-written and engaging, with a unique and intriguing narrative style.
- The portrayal of the privileged Sinclair family and their complex dynamics is thought-provoking and emotionally resonant.
- Some readers may find the writing style disjointed or confusing at times, particularly in the early parts of the novel.
Themes: Privilege, identity, guilt, the search for meaning, morality
Confessions is a psychological thriller novel by Japanese author Kanae Minato.
The story revolves around a middle school teacher named Yuko Moriguchi, who is seeking revenge for the death of her four-year-old daughter.
The novel is told through multiple perspectives, including Yuko’s confession, her students’ confessions, and third-person narration.
One unique aspect of the novel is the way it explores the complexities of guilt, blame, and responsibility.
The characters are all flawed and have made mistakes, and the reader is forced to question their own assumptions about morality and justice.
- The novel is well-paced and keeps the reader engaged throughout.
- The use of multiple perspectives adds depth and complexity to the story.
- Some readers may find the subject matter disturbing or triggering.
Themes: Guilt, revenge, the darker aspects of human nature, identity, the power of secrets
This mystery novel centers around Jane Hudson, a Latin teacher who returns to her alma mater, Heart Lake School for Girls, to teach.
While there, she discovers that a series of bizarre and tragic events have occurred, including the death of her roommate many years prior.
As Jane investigates the dark history of the school, she must confront her past and the secrets she thought she had left behind.
- The novel is well-written and atmospheric, with vivid descriptions of the school and its surroundings.
- The use of Latin and classical mythology adds a layer of depth and sophistication to the story.
- The resolution of the mystery may feel rushed or unsatisfying to some readers.
Themes: Identity, the darker aspects of human nature, secrets and their power, guilt, the past haunting the present
The Likeness is a psychological mystery novel by Tana French, first published in 2008.
The novel is the second in French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, although it can also be read as a standalone novel.
The story follows Cassie Maddox, a detective who is called to investigate the murder of a young woman who bears an uncanny resemblance to Cassie herself.
To solve the case, Cassie takes on the identity of the victim, delving into the victim’s past and infiltrating a close-knit group of friends who all lived together in a sprawling, secluded house in the Irish countryside.
- Psychological depth
- Atmospheric setting
- Unrealistic premise
Themes: Identity, past trauma, guilt, secrets, and their power, the darker aspects of human nature
The Go-Between is a classic novel set in the early 1900s that follows the story of a young boy named Leo Colston who is sent to spend the summer with a wealthy family at their estate in the countryside.
While there, Leo becomes involved in a secret affair between the family’s daughter, Marian, and a tenant farmer named Ted Burgess by becoming their “go-between”.
As the summer progresses, Leo begins to realize the true nature of the relationship and the power dynamics at play.
- The characters are well-drawn and complex, with realistic motivations and conflicts.
- The novel’s themes of class and social hierarchy are explored in a nuanced and thought-provoking manner.
- Outdated views
Themes: guilt, innocence, secrets and their power, social class, the darker aspects of human nature
This science fiction novella takes place on a remote island where a group of women has been isolated from the rest of society.
The island is run by a group of sisters who use their advanced knowledge of science to keep the women in check.
The story follows a newcomer to the island named Marianne, who begins to uncover the dark secrets that the sisters are hiding.
- Exploration of female relationships
- The world-building is fascinating, with a unique and detailed depiction of a remote island society.
- Slow pacing
Themes: Power, control, deception, secrecy, the darker aspects of human nature, actions, and consequences, isolation
This next novel blends elements of fantasy, mystery, and romance and follows a graduate student named Zachary Ezra Rawlins, who discovers a mysterious book in his university library.
As he begins to read the book, he realizes that the stories within it are all connected to his own life in strange and unexpected ways.
The narrative weaves together different timelines and perspectives, taking readers on a journey through a magical underground world called The Harbor of the Starless Sea, where Zachary must confront his past and solve the mystery of the book’s origin.
- The plot is intricate and multi-layered, with multiple threads and subplots that all tie together satisfyingly.
- The book is beautifully written, with vivid and imaginative descriptions that bring the fantastical world of the Harbor to life.
- The nonlinear structure of the book can be confusing at times, and some readers may find it difficult to keep
Themes: Secrets, obsession, identity, destiny, fate, the power of stories and storytelling
This mystery novel follows a group of seven theater students at an elite arts college, who are all cast in a production of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar.”
As the performance approaches, tensions rise within the group, and secrets are revealed. When one of the actors is found dead, suspicion falls on the remaining members.
The narrative jumps between the present-day investigation and the events leading up to the murder, as the truth behind what really happened are slowly revealed.
- The Shakespearean elements add depth to the story and provide insight into the characters’ actions and motivations.
- The book raises interesting questions about the nature of friendship, loyalty, and obsession.
- The writing can be overly descriptive at times, which may slow down the pacing of the story.
Themes: Elitism, obsession, guilt, the power of performance, the search for identity
A historical mystery novel, The Name of the Rose is set in a 14th-century Italian monastery.
The protagonist, William of Baskerville, is a Franciscan friar and scholar who is sent to investigate a series of murders that have occurred at the monastery.
The novel is renowned for its attention to historical detail and its exploration of complex themes such as religion, politics, power, and knowledge.
Eco was a renowned scholar and semiotician, and his academic background is reflected in the novel’s intricate plot and rich symbolism.
Through the story of the murders and William’s investigation, Eco explores the tension between reason and faith, the power struggles within the Catholic Church, and the importance of knowledge and learning.
- Rich historical details
- Engaging mystery
- Dense prose
Themes: Intellectualism, elitism, the power of knowledge, obsession, morality
A well-known gothic novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray was published in 1890 and follows the handsome and wealthy young Dorian Gray, who has a portrait painted of himself by an artist named Basil Hallward.
After meeting the cynical Lord Henry Wotton, Dorian becomes obsessed with his own youth and beauty and makes a wish that he could remain young and beautiful while his portrait ages instead.
- Timeless story
- Beautifully written prose
- Heavy use of dialogue
Themes: Morality, obsession, corruption, the power of art, the duality of human nature
These books are all complex and thought-provoking, with intricate plots, multi-dimensional characters, and deep explorations of various themes, much like The Secret History.
These novels often delve into the psyche of their characters, examining their motivations, desires, and fears in great detail whilst also exploring issues of morality, identity, power dynamics, and the human condition.
While each of the books discussed here has its own unique strengths and weaknesses, they all share some commonalities with The Secret History.
Fans of Donna Tartt’s masterpiece may enjoy exploring these other works for their similar themes and engaging storytelling.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is The Secret History Based On A True Story?
No, the book is a work of fiction. However, the author has stated that she was inspired by the classic Greek tragedy Bacchae by Euripides.
What Is The Writing Style Of The Secret History?
The book is written in a literary style, with a focus on character development and philosophical themes. The language is often complex and erudite, with references to Greek mythology and literature.