The Secret History

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

Summary from Goodreads

Processed with VSCO with c1 preset

“The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation.”

The first sentence of The Secret History, Donna Tartt’s debut novel of 1992, might be superior to at least 90% of the first sentences of all of the books I’ve ever read. I mean, how can you put down a book after a first sentence like that?

You can’t.

The Secret History is narrated by Richard Papen, a Gatsby-esque, Californian 19-year-old who after a year of medical school (mistake) and basically estrangement from his (mostly indifferent) parents, travels to New England to attend Hampden College, where he plans to study English Literature. Quickly, however, he falls under the spell of a group of Classics students who study with one very particular, ever-so-exclusive professor, separate to the rest of the students at the university. He talks his way into the class, and into the lives of the rich and enigmatic group.

It turns out to be the worst decision he’s ever made.

The novel is, at its heart, a thriller, but it’s a thriller that instead of asking the usual ‘who dunnit’, instead leaves us asking – how? How does it come to be that this group of – admittedly eccentric but not overtly unusual – students murder one of their classmates?

It’s remarkable that in this 600-some page tome, Tartt manages not to let up on the sense of foreboding disaster for even a second. If the group aren’t threatened with exposure from outside sources, they are crumbling from within. It’s quite a situation when you discover that the murder you committed together really only scratches the surface of the mess.

It’s funny – there were many elements in this novel that were familiar. From the group of classmates reading way too much into their school work, to the group themselves; bookish Henry, hot but creepy twins Charles and Camilla and poor half closeted Frances, all felt somewhat archetypal. Richard, even, the working class boy who invents himself a new history to fit in with his rich friends, didn’t feel new as such. And yet, in Tartt’s hands the story felt completely unique.

The richness of her language and the perfect balance between plot and character – what I loved so much about this and The Goldfinch was the way that Tartt establishes an expansive and complicated situation and then delves deep into how her characters respond to it – create a disturbing, hedonistic, shocking and anxious world that I couldn’t help but get lost in.

There is a reason so many people recommend this one.

March favourites

March: two lots of snow, endless rain and the occasional glimpse of sunlight. I am so ready for spring. Despite the weather, it’s been quite a good life month. The company I’ve been writing for the past year have extended my contract yet again, leaving me free of career panic until the autumn. It’s funny to think that this time last year I was in a constant state of anxiety about having zero life direction, but now that I do, and not only that but am actually earning money doing the thing I ultimately want to spend my life doing,  I live in constant fear of it all going away. This adulthood thing never lets up.

This is why we have books and Netflix. Speaking of, without further ado, here are my favourites for March:

TV: Jessica Jones & Sneaky Pete

Come on! There was no way I could choose only one. I adored both of these shows from their premieres and having them both return in the same month was the best kind of televisual gift.

jessica jones

JJ thoughts: Why do I love you so much when all you ever do is hurt me?

Sneaky Pete

Sneaky Pete thoughts: I am so ready for some kind of Marius and Julia heist situation. Also real Pete is such a gem he almost (*almost*) made up for the lack of Eddie in season 2.

Podcast: The 50th episode of The Bright Sessions

the bright sessions

The Bright Sessions, for the uninitiated, is a wonderful fictional podcast by Lauren Shippen about people with supernatural abilities in therapy. It’s very much the Buffy the Vampire Slayer of podcasts – a tense and dramatic supernatural show that is actually a heart-rending examination of fucked up people and their messy lives. I adore it, and for their fiftieth run, in true Buffy style, they did a musical episode. At the start, I was smiling in the uniquely joyful way you do when your faves burst into song unexpectedly, by the end I was a tearful, emotional mess. This weird little show packs a serious emotional punch, and I will be very sad when it ends later this year.

Random stuff: The Bleed

the bleed

I used to be a huge fan of the Lenny Letter. When it first came out it felt like it was addressing this huge gap in my reading life, as well as showing me a model of what I could achieve with my own writing if I really put my mind to it. Though Lena Dunham is a controversial figure and has frequently been wrong, even as I was irked by her, I stuck with the newsletter, because I thought what it was doing was of value. But after how she and Jenni Konner responded to Aurrora Perrineu’s allegation of sexual assault against their friend Murray Miller, I was out. Both Dunham and Konner betrayed everything they ever stood for – and I just didn’t feel right supporting their work after that. But I missed Lenny, and wanted an injection of women-centred journalism coming in my inbox on the reg. Enter The Bleed, the Call Your Girlfriend podcast newsletter. Every month, Aminatou, Ann and Gina post a list of the articles they loved from the month, and it is informative and fantastic and has somewhat plugged the hole left behind by Lenny – though if you have further suggestions of high quality feminist content online please throw them my way.

Special mention: Mike Coulter’s Instagram account

https://www.instagram.com/p/BgjCV-FBqU7/?hl=en&taken-by=realmikecolter

He is an adorable man and I love having him in my feed.

Did you have a fun March? Any faves I should know about?

 

Reading slump solutions

Today I want to talk about the biggest enemy of the book blogger. It’s not Netflix, an active social life, demanding job or insecurity about your place in a community that you’re increasingly uncomfortable with.

No, it’s that most dreaded of non-physical ailments: the book slump.

Characters who would have usually lit up your life for a week lie dead and limp on the pages, plot twists that would have you reaching for your phone to tweet a GIF in reaction seem pedestrian at best. Worst of all you might find yourself reading the blurb of a YA contemporary in which two young people (her ‘too skinny’ and him possessing a surprising amount of sexual prowess for a 17-year-old*) fall in love under adverse circumstances (recently traumatically deceased parent/best friend/ acquaintance from school they just can’t forget)and think it seems… stupid.

*just me?

Obviously such a situation can’t be allowed to fester. So pop the kettle on, light up a pumpkin spice candle, ease your feet into your slippers and relax. I got you.

Bookstagram

Bookstagram is without a doubt one of the dumbest things we do in the book community. It’s all aesthetics and no substance, which is pretty much the opposite of what reading is about. But I love it. Looking at aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised book pictures makes me imagine the aesthetically pleasing, highly stylised life I might have if I were only reading more.

Booktube

If there’s one thing that gets me more pumped than pretty pictures of books, it’s videos of smart people being excited about books. Kayley Hyde is my favourite, if you’re in need of recommendations.

Newsletters

If you’re getting lost in a novel, maybe you need something a little shorter. Everyone and their mother has a newsletter these days. Newsletters can take the form of something like Lenny, a feminist e-zine that hits your inbox once a week with a treasure trove of original writing by women ranging from personal essays to interviews to the most poetic horoscopes you’ll ever read; to something more like The Bleed, the newsletter of the Call Your Girlfriend podcast*, which is a summary of news items, articles and pictures Aminatou and Anne wanted to talk about over the month but didn’t have time for.

*Have you listened to Aminatou’s interview with Hillary Clinton yet? Omg.

Read poetry

A reading slump is often indicative of our emotional state. If you’re feeling crappy and looking to see that reflected somewhere, read poetry. Poetry is raw emotion with all the exposition of a novel removed. Sometimes cutting to the heart of the matter will snap you out of that slump and reinvigorate more than just your reading life.

Shake things up

Processed with VSCO with p5 preset

One of my biggest ‘post-grad realisations’ is the importance of shaking up your routine. When you don’t have the beginning and ending of school terms doing it for you, you have to do it for yourself. This applies in all areas of your life, including reading. If all you’re reading is YA contemporaries and you’re feeling bored, pick up a novel that is completely outside of your wheelhouse. Try some non-fiction, or a classic, or look up the Belletrist pick for the month because it’s bound to be beautiful, clever and personally and politically relevant.

You’re not growing if you’re not changing, or however the saying goes.

S’later, slump!

February Wrap-Up

I hope everybody had a good February. I worked and caught what feels like my hundredth cold of the winter.

My ipod classic finally died. RIP, ipod classic.

I started attending a spin class. And I love it! Who am I?!

I celebrated March 1st by sellotaping the four agreements to my (broken in an unfortunate incident) mirror. During February I started to think that becoming a better person was an active process. In addition to the four agreements, I stuck another post-it above my desk that says ‘my fuck budget is low’, a Katherine Ryan quote.

Apparently measurable person improvement begins with post-its.

february-wrap-up

Also I reviewed books. This month they included:

Swing Time – Zadie Smith

The Wangs vs the World – Jade Chang

Blue Lily, Lily Blue – Maggie Stiefvater

Hope in the Dark – Rebecca Solnit

I also wrote:

Are Book Bloggers Becoming Censors? 

I think that a good discussion post provides an opportunity for your own mind to be changed, and I really appreciated some of the comments that people left on this one. They provided a perspective that I hadn’t considered, and I appreciated that.Thank you to everyone who participated in the conversation.

A Reading List (hastily complied, somewhat diverse)

OTHER THAN BOOKS: Some recommendations you didn’t ask for.

To Read: This article by Lena Dunham about dealing with her sexual assault. It’s about how after her assault she found it pretty much impossible to have any sort of sexual fantasy. It’s an emotional and difficult piece, and I loved it.

To Watch: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. It’s likely I will write more about this show after I’ve watched it all. I love it. I love it SO much. Often TV shows of this kind have a lead female character that I find alienating because of her lack of emotional damage (lol). Her role is so often to be the perfect solution for the emotionally damaged gentleman in her life (think New Girl). Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy watching it, but I come with far too many of my own weirdnesses to ever really relate to this role. Becca of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is much more on my level. It’s weird, but hearing the words ‘she’s so broken inssiiiiiiiide’ joyfully sung during the opening credits of the show makes me feel a little bit less alone in the universe. Thank you, Rachel Bloom.

To Listen: Marc Maron’s WTF interview with Trae Crowder, the liberal redneck. This conversation was an unexpected delight. I can’t recommend it enough. I didn’t know Crowder’s work before I listened, but I will certainly be looking into it in the future.

May Wrap-Up

I am going to be honest, I did not read a whole lot this month.

My excuse for this is that a couple of the books I read were really long, and another I wanted to take my time with just cause*.

*You know when you read an idea and you just sort of want to absorb it and then let it settle? It was like that.

maywrapup

This month I reviewed:

Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin

Feelings: I LOVED this and it pulled me out of something of a reading slump.

The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

Feelings: This book is good, but maybe not as good as the hype would have you believe.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

Feelings: This one, on the other hand, is even more than the hype would suggest. LOVE LOVE LOVE.

The Dark Days Club – Alison Goodman

Feelings: Nineteenth century, demons, hot guys and feminism. This one has everything.

I also wrote about…

How to alienate a bookworm 

A day in the (not so) fictional nineteenth century.

Everything I loved about season 5 of Girls.

Ten books I feel differently about after time has passed.

Bookstagram love.

This month’s podcast was… Adventures in Roommating

I hope you all had a lovely May 🙂