Is The Secret History Hard to Read?

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As far as Dark Academia goes, The Secret History by Donna Tart is a MUST-READ!

I’ve really been trying to enter my Dark Academia phase this last year, and if you have seen any BookToks on the genre, I’m sure that you have seen people raving about this book!

Before I got into this book, I did see a lot of comments about how it’s hard to understand the plot and keep track of the characters.

However, after reading, you see that choice is very intentional, as the main narrator has very little information as well.

It all plays into Donna Tart’s commentary about over-romanticizing your life and how far people will go when obsessing over beauty and superiority.

For the majority of the book, we learn about the events through the lens of the character Richard.

Because he isn’t fully trusted by his classmates (who he’s obsessed with), we’re not always given the full story. Because of this, Richard’s a bit of an unreliable narrator.

Going in knowing this will make it a lot easier to catch on to the themes that Tart is trying to portray!

So, Is The Secret History Hard to Read?

Though I don’t think this book is as easy to follow as more plot-driven novels in the same genre (like Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo), once you get into the bulk of The Secret History, it becomes a lot easier to follow.

Be aware that there is no possibility too dark for the book, and don’t go into trying to predict the plot because this book is VERY character-driven.

There are some plot points that get dropped completely, as well as some events that I initially thought were foreshadowing but ended up just being confusing loose ends.  

Okay, this next section will contain some minor spoilers, so if you don’t want anything to be spoiled, don’t read ahead!!

My first tip for you is to not get too caught up in Richard’s back story. I’d say just try to get to know him and take note of his obsession with being considered an intellectual, as well as his isolation. 

Secondly, try to distinguish the different characters in the Greek club. At first, I had difficulty remembering who is who, so here’s a little cheat sheet!

Richard Papen is our narrator and a lonely boy who loved studying Greek in high school. When he gets a chance to study at a university, he wants to join the small Greek program at the school; however, it’s invite only.

Richard is not only obsessed with that good good academic aesthetic and lifestyle, but also with the small group of Greek students.

When they start to include him in their group, he’s very easily swayed to their whims and ideas, all because he wants to conform for the sake of inclusion.

Charles and Camilla Macauley are twins, and I think their relationship with each other as well as the different member of the Greek cohort are some of the mot complex.

Charles comes across as cool and collected, but he’s also a hot head and has a drinking problem. He’s very over protective and possessive of his twin sister.

Richard has a big fat crush on Camilla, so to the reader she’s seen as very beautiful and painted in a perfect light, very demure and very feminine.

She’s the only girl in the group, so she is very easy to tell apart from the other characters. That being said, her relationship with the other men in the group is very complex. 

So, those are the twins!

Next up, Henry Winter. Henry is the leader of this group, as he’s the smartest (something he is very much aware of).

He is very rich, which also plays into his superiority complex. He is the IT boy of Dark Academia; when I think of the aestehtic itself, I think of our boy Henry.

Richard also shares this sentiment with me hehe. He’s very willing to follow Henry’s lead and take his word as truth. Henry is all vibes over everything else (even other peoples lives…).

Francis Abernathy is very smart but very lazy. He pretty much goes along with whatever the group does, even though he can see through things.

He lives in fear of Henry, which Richard sees. He comes from old money and is a classic rich boy. He’s also queer which is brought up between the different characters he’s close with.

Finally, there’s Bunny Corcoran, AKA Edmund (but he’s really only referred to as Bunny after he’s dead).

Although he’s in the elite academic group, he’s not as smart or clever as the rest of the group.

He had a very all-American upbringing, and when you meet his family in the book, his character starts to make a lot more sense. Honestly, out of all the characters, Bunny’s backstory and arc makes the most sense. 

How Long Should It Take To Read The Secret History?

Okay, first disclaimer before I answer this question: I think that it’s important to keep in mind that everyone reads at different paces.

Some people can speed through a book whereas other people might take their time, and both are great ways to read depending on your preference. The important thing is that you’re reading at all!!

With that being said, it took me about one week to read The Secret History.

The paperback edition of The Secret History is 559 pages, and for me personally, it was not an easy breezy kinda read like a YA book or a romance (basically, I needed to use my full brain on this one…).

Also, if you’re someone who loves audio books, I found that listening to this novel is a great way to get through it a little faster AND understand it better!

Overall, I’m fully in my Dark Academia phase at the moment, and this book was perfect for my mood reading!

The Secret History very much captures the aesthetic of Dark Academia. It really paints a great picture of the genre with its love of high academic life but also the mystery that come along with it.

If you’ve read The Secret History, let me know what you think!

I personally really enjoyed this book, and I’ve found myself thinking about it a lot after I finished it. This one really stuck with me!

-Paisley 

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