Publication Date: April 13th, 2004
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.
If you’ve read any book by this author, you’d know that she has the uncanny ability to make you feel like you’re a witness more than a reader. She pulls you into the story so viscerally that it’s as if you’re dragged from where you’re sitting right into the pages of the book – as a bystander to whatever fucked up scene is happening. Like a dream or a nightmare that you’ve become a part of.
Admittedly, I have no idea what “Bacchanal” murder is. Later on, I find out that it’s when you’re in a euphoric/mindless state that you have no clue what you’re doing. Nor you’ll remember what it is you did whilst in the moment. So it goes that six, privileged bored people set out into the woods, high, drunk, starved and completely off their fucking minds with the intention of just being in a rapturous state. What happens after was the murder of a farmer whose land they trespassed. The state of his body when found, however, will make even the vilest of serial killers flinch. Right away you can tell that the group is hiding a secret – the knowing looks and the jittery nerves that come off from them was palpable.
This is not your typical murder/mystery novel in a way that you’ll be hunting for the killers. You know who the killers are from the get-go but how the murder happened was the most riveting aspect of the book. Not only that, one of the characters decided to play the blackmail card and put everyone on their toes by having the murder hang over their heads even though exposing them would mean he himself would be exposed.
Our narrator, Richard Pappin is the unfortunate sob who got inadvertently involved just because he was a part of the elite Greek class with whom only these six people were enrolled. He was mesmerized and maybe a bit starstruck, so much so that he knowingly involved himself in the covering of the crime. He was a lonely figure; an outlier from Texas whose family could live with or without his presence. In this group, he suddenly found a camaraderie that’s been missing in his life. This was what made committing the cover-up an easy pill to swallow for him. For the first time in his life, he belonged somewhere.
There is no deeper meaning to the book. Classism or elitism ran rampant; as well, drug use and alcohol. Other than that, it’s just a murder story and the lengths people will go through to cover the crime. Even so far as committing another one. In the end, I supposed they got their comeuppance, but not in the way that criminals should’ve met theirs. Life, guilt, and fate probably had more to do with their karma more than anything. I read Ms. Tartt’s Goldfinch two years ago and to this day, I’m still in awe of her writing and story-telling chops. I say The Secret History is much less complicated than Goldfinch. But still no way less than stellar.