November 28, 2013
I've been writing everywhere now that I decided to look at this project as something I'm doing completely and unapologetically for myself. Nonetheless, I do wish to sincerely thank those of you who've been keeping track of this project and site, who've supported me and who've tried to keep me going. Thank you guys. And now without further ado:
The Secret History
First published in: 1992
This edition: First Vintage Contemporaries edition, 2004
Genre: psychological thriller (mostly)
Cover photography by Alinary / Art Resource NY; cover design by Barbara de Wilde and Chip Kidd
For my first review in many, many months I've chosen a book that I've read a while ago, a book that was buzzed about a lot when it was first published. That buzz is no more. But one of the things I personally like about my taste in books, is that I don't go along with fads. I don't always read “what everyone else is reading”, I don't keep track of what's new and what's hot. Sure, at times I will get curious and read and review new books (I just had to do FIFTY SHADES, obviously), and I can get really excited about upcoming new material from favorite authors… but to me, any unread book is a new book, and it's worthy of reviewing just as much as recently published work.
THE SECRET HISTORY by Donna Tartt is a book I read earlier on during this project, but it's always stayed with me. I read Tartt's THE LITTLE FRIEND before this one, and I was already very impressed with the author's ability to set a haunting, eerie, foreshadowing mood. But THE LITTLE FRIEND wasn't what I expected it to be; I'd decided to read thrillers for a month, and in the spirit of Themed Reading had hoped it would be more of a plot-driven thriller. It ended up being good in different ways; it had that beautiful haunting undertone throughout. But it wasn't what I wanted at the time. But it did inspire me to get a copy of THE SECRET HISTORY, which did turn out to have that eerie mystery, but with a bit of a faster plot to it, which really takes off after only a few chapters.
What I love about reading thrillers is "helping" to solve the who- and/or whydunits, but I prefer it if it isn't too corny, except of course in case of comedy and satire. Much like in THE LITTLE FRIEND, Tartt drops subtle hints and omens throughout the book, but whereas THE LITTLE FRIEND ended up in a different direction from my expectations, picking up on bits and pieces in THE SECRET HISTORY did prove to be more rewarding for a wannabe detective like yours truly.
THE SECRET HISTORY is a whydunit: a thriller in which the focus of the mystery is on motive, not on the culprit's identity. We instantly know someone dies: our narrator, scholarship student Richard Papen, informs us of the death of Edmund "Bunny" Corcoran on the very first page. The how and why of it, that will have to wait.
First Richard brings us to Hampden College, Vermont, where he studies the classics, eagerly hoping to be included in Professor Julian Morrow's elite class consisting of a small clique of eccentric and too-smart-for-their-own-good students from privileged backgrounds. After being rejected, however, Richard still hangs around, hoping to impress the other students, eventually gaining their approval when he helps them solve a problem, thus proving his worth and earning a spot in Julian's class after all. The group collectively worship Julian and his moral-less teachings to a point of obsession, and one evening while under the influence of both alcohol and their mentor, things go horribly, irreversibly, devastatingly wrong…
The clique, that's what it's all about. My first impression of the group of students is that they are all incredibly intelligent. Knowing what you know right off the bat – that someone dies – it also is clear immediately that this will be their undoing: they actually feel like they are above the laws of man and nature alike. The reader is wary; I for example found myself instantly prejudiced against the students. I disliked them and found them to be arrogant. And that's entirely the point.
I never fully trusted our narrator, and he has himself to thank for it. His background embarrasses him, and while at Hampden college Richard invents a different version of himself, a more glamorous and wealthy version, in hopes to impress the others. He does this with ease, nonchalantly, without regard for consequences. For instance, he spends all his money on expensive clothes, and proceeds to almost freeze to death in the only living arrangements he can now afford: an “apartment” without heating, but with a hole in the wall. His expensive clothes won't keep him warm.
It foreshadows the bigger, similar storyline ahead: secrets and lies… and dramatic consequences.
Despite all of his lies Richard still seems to be relatively untarnished and naïve. Shame is what motivates him, and the only person affected by and seriously hurt because of his lies is Richard himself. I sure as hell never trusted the others. Not one iota, so to speak. Reading this book was interesting in itself, as I never quite knew whom to trust, and it got to be a little bit nervewracking at times.
The plot line in itself could be considered to be unbelievable: how is it that these super intelligent (and you would think rational) students collectively lose all sense of reality because they are so mesmerized by just the one person? It could also be argued that the consequences are farfetched as well. But Tartt gets away with it because, for one, the psychology behind it is valid. The behaviors and motivations in THE SECRET HISTORY are reminiscent of cults.
Furthermore, it helps that Tartt's writing skills are off the charts, which to me was very evident from the start, when she began to set the scene: the (initially) idyllic college, where bookish students burn their way through subjects like philosophy, Greek and Roman mythology and history… a timeless place almost. (I felt the book could be set in any decade really, whether it's the 20's or the 80's. I marveled at this. You don't often find a timeless book these days.) Tartt was a student when she started writing this book, and it her intelligence and imagination both showed. I felt enveloped in the atmosphere.
It's quite a story, then, but Tartt makes it work, while always making clear, despite if and how justifiable a motive might be, that secrets and lies will break you eventually – and that nothing is certain. For our characters, these words may ring empty. But the message certainly comes across to readers of this book. Which is why I haven't forgotten THE SECRET HISTORY, and probably never will.
28/11/2013. On a final note before publishing this post, I do intend to give this site a new layout, something a bit cleaner and to the point. So when the site looks a bit messy in the next few weeks: it's not you. It's me.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2011 and beyond.
November 27, 2013
Oh, how I know.
My last post was in September, explaining my long absence, trying to convince you as well as myself that I still wanted to do this. That my heart was still completely in it. That I was working on it.
And I was working on it, truly; I took a photo later that week and had started on the review. Then work got in the way – and then nothing else mattered. Work always became my number 1 priority (photography wise that is) and I couldn't as well as wouldn't make time for the rest. Once I did my work, I turned off the computer, no more room for anything else.
My heart wasn't truly in it. In my personal photography. Not then. I don't like admitting it, but there you have it. I feared back then I might actually had stopped caring altogether. But no, that wasn't quite the case just yet.
I appreciate my work, I'm glad I get to do it. I'm grateful, forever, to everyone who's had faith in me and my capabilities as a photographer to document their smiling faces and their important moments. It's awesome that I get. to. do. that. I will always love doing what I do.
But there is MORE to me than this. Damn it, I miss the passion I used to have for my own projects. MY moments, MY people, MY home, MY places, MY memories, MY thoughts. For me photography has always been an outlet. When I couldn't find the words, I'd find the imagery. (Another reason why Reading & Reviewing is so deeply personal to me – the format is my way of truly expressing my views.)
The past few years, as my photography became more about work and less about artistic expression, I've felt lost and confused, and always searching for something. I stopped knowing what I wanted. And I stopped knowing myself. I stopped seeing. I feel like I've shut myself off. I was hibernating, and now I'm slowly waking up. And I want to do things but I don't know where to start. But you just have to take the plunge and start somewhere, anywhere, just as long as you START.
So I made the decision over the week to start here.
But I need to be clear. I am done with making promises. I'm done with trying to make this blog anything other than what I need it to be, which is a place to organize my reviews and my sporadic-other-book-related thoughts. You won't find daily posts here, or giveaways, or product recommendations (even though my inbox is flooded with marketing emails trying to get me to recommend you sunglasses). My reviews will be honest as always, which I imagine is all you want from a hobbyist book reviewer anyway. Just honest reviews, no fuss.
I don't want to alienate my readership – whoever is still left after months of radio silence after more months of radio silence – but I don't want or intend to be something I'm not. I'm not a daily poster. I'm not here to try and have more views and clicks. I won't social network everyone to death: I'm quite bad at keeping up with Twitter and Facebook pages and – obviously – blogs.
I'm not a blogger as they are defined today: someone who makes this their job and their priority. This instead is something I will try to do to the best of my abilities when I have the time and the energy. Because I know, from writing this, that I definitely still have the passion and the words.
I just need to have a little more belief in myself, and know that I can still do something that I can be proud of. I need to forgive myself for abandoning a project I've always claimed to love more than anything else I've ever done.
I'll try. And this time, I'll try for none other than myself.
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2011 and beyond.
September 4, 2013
Gearing up to pick up this project properly for the first time in a while! I've set up a little writing space in my home so I can be more focused on reviewing. I've got a stack of books ready to be R&R-ed, as you can see.
For a while I've been too distracted (I kept forgetting about R&R, honestly, because I've been too focused on other things) and uninspired, ideas haven't been coming to me quite as easily as they used to. I also haven't been quite as much of a reader the past year, although right now I'm plowing through a Salman Rushdie and enjoying it: all hope is not yet lost.
I've said it before and I'll say it again: I miss this project. I just miss it. I need to do it.
Apart from new reviews, I'm also considering redoing the layout for this whole website. More clean, less clutter. It might take me a while to get around to that part though but I'm feeling optimistic and glad that I'm at least thinking about this place and this project again.
Meanwhile I have been trying to blog at Karin-Elizabeth.com (about photography, plants, Rome, daily life). I think blogging there, and loving that, has helped me to begin fresh here.
As soon as I have a review ready, I'll post it. I've got my heart set on taking a photo tomorrow, so it shouldn't take me too long (this time).
Thank you, thank you, thank you, everyone who's begun following this blog. Thank you, thank you, thank you a million times over for those of you who are still reading this despite my continued absence and broken promises (to myself mostly).
© Karin E. Lips
2008-2011 and beyond.