The Secret History + The Blush

secret history

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – I don’t know how to describe my experience of The Secret History. It is about an elite group of college students who primarily study Classics under a dynamic mentor named Julian. They have special status at their college and are seen by the other students as odd and mysterious. For reasons that are very logical to themselves (and, disturbingly, to the reader) they murder one of their members, Bunny, and the rest of the novel unravels the mystery of why he is murdered and explores the aftermath of their decision. I started out absolutely adoring this novel. The first half is a brilliant piece of atmospheric writing, placing the reader straight into beautiful and rural Vermont at a small, elite college with wealthy, eccentric and  intelligent students. But the second half…oh, brother. I hated it. I hated reading about their endless drunken binges, drug fests and rotten, selfish antics. I wished all of them had been murdered. I only suffered through the mess because of the hope that things would magically right themselves by the end. And there was redemption. The ending was unexpected yet beautiful and right. So, I had very strong feelings about this book and I can’t decide if I really think it is gorgeous or silly or a big mash of both, but it is worth reading.

The Blush by Elizabeth Taylor – The Blush is a collection of stories by Taylor, a much admired author among bloggers. I have tried to read several of Taylor’s novels and could not connect with them at all so I bought this volume hoping that her stories would be a better introduction to her writing. And they were. To me, her writing is cold and hard to embrace, but it is worth giving her prickly prose a shot because there is lots of humor, truth and spark in her characters and her writing. I like that her stories are all very different, focusing on different settings, classes, and time periods. This lady is harsh on her characters and spares no embarrassing detail of their lives. I cringed through quite a few of the stories because I just felt so sorry for the characters and I was uncomfortable for them. She really has no pity at times. My favorite story of the bunch is called ‘Poor Girl’ and is a ghost story, though an ambiguous one. It is quite sensual and impressively dark Victorianish – it somewhat reminded me of Sarah Waters. I’m glad I read The Blush because I no longer fear Elizabeth Taylor. In fact, I am currently reading At Mrs. Lippincote’s and think it is fantastic.

Have you read either of these books? Are there any authors that you can’t connect with?

16 comments / Add your comment below

  1. I knew nothing about Elizabeth Taylor before I started blogging. I still haven’t read any of her books, though she is on my “someday” list. I’ve seen Donna Tartt’s books prominently displayed in bookstores but I’ve never read anything by her either – and to be honest I’m not sure I want to, based on blog reviews I’ve come across!

    1. I really like E. Taylor now. She is somewhat hard to get into, but worth the try. Tartt is not essential, but she does have a new book coming out in the fall that I might check out.

  2. I read The Secret History years ago and loved it, but unfortunately don’t remember enough of the particulars to say much more.

    Elizabeth Taylor is an author I need to try – A Game of HIde and Seek is on my shelf. The bLush has sucha pretty cover!

    1. I did like The Secret History, but it could have been edited and cut down to make it less tedious. The first part is mesmerizing!

      Try E. Taylor – I think you’ll like her!

  3. I had the same experience of The Secret History. I loved the first half but didn’t like the second and found all the drinking and drug use too excessive and repetitive.
    I haven’t tried to read anything by Elizabeth Taylor yet but starting with a short story collection sounds like it might be a good idea.

    1. I remember reading your review and completely agree with your thoughts! Just…too much!
      Taylor’s short stories are very good and I’m glad I started with them. They were a great introduction to her novels.

  4. Interesting. I couldn’t connect with Tartt either. I didn’t get beyond the first 50 pages. I’m not the biggest ET fan either but I liked Blaming.

    1. Tartt is intriguing. I liked her writing, setting and tone – just not the rambling. ET won’t become one of my favorite authors, but I would like to read several of her novels.

  5. I’m not keen on the sound of the second half of The Secret History enough to want to read it, but The Blush sounds interesting – the difference in the stories – if possibly difficult. I had to look her up because I kept seeing the actress in my head!

    1. So unfortunate that Taylor shares the same name with the actress! The Blush is a great collection of stories – one of the best I’ve read. I really enjoyed it.

  6. I haven’t read either of those books, although I have read a couple by Elizabeth Taylor – years ago though. I can’t get on with A.S. Byatt, and some people seem to adore her writing.

  7. These are not authors I’ve read but have head a lot about them. I think I might be slightly intimidated by both of them!

  8. I read The Secret History as a graduate student doing classical studies, so it really resonated with me – there is definitely something about studying ancient languages that attracts quite eccentric (I’m being polite!) people.

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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