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REVIEW: The Secret History

Book review of ‘The Secret History’
Statue of Hermes graphic by Mallory Mills

Like “My Year of Rest and Relaxation,” this novel has been all over my page feed on both Tiktok and Instagram. So I had to do the obvious thing and read it myself to find out whether or not it really is all that great.


The book begins with a haunting first line, “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 story is from the perspective of Richard Papen, recalling his time at Hampden College from nearly ten years prior. Papen is an outcast himself and applies to Hampden College to get away from his overbearing family. Here is where he meets his future ancient Greek teacher, Julian Morrow.

Papen attempts to join the Greek class, but is denied immediately because Morrow is very exclusive and only teaches five students. After coming across some of the students in the library, he overhears them translating text and offers some advice. This is the moment he meets three of the main characters, the witty Edmund (Bunny) Corcoran, and the sociable twins Camilla and Charles Macauley. We later meet the two other students, Francis and Henry. Papen is able to befriend the students and slowly become a part of their group and a student of Julian’s. However, his relationships with Henry and Francis are slow to build.

The book continues on with Papen growing his relationship with his peers until it becomes noticeably obvious that Bunny is becoming more erratic and rash. Soon it is revealed to Papen by Henry that the five of them, excluding Papen himself and Bunny, took part in a ‘bacchanal’ in the middle of the woods and ended up murdering an innocent farmer. After their event, Henry ends up telling Bunny, but due to Bunny’s risky behavior, it leads Henry to the decision that in order to prevent Bunny from spilling the beans, they have to murder him aswell.

Papen is reasonably shocked, but goes along with the plan and murders Bunny by pushing him off a cliff during a walk. Days go by before anyone notices Bunny is missing, and no one suspects a thing when they find him in the woods where he normally took walks.

The group continues life as normal, until the funeral. Everyone in the group seems to decline. Francis becomes a major hypochondriac, Charles begins drinking heavily and Papen becomes addicted to pills.

Nearing the end, Julian finds a letter from Bunny describing how he believed Henry was planning to murder him. The letter dated back before Bunny’s death and had the letterhead from a hotel room Bunny and Henry shared on a vacation just weeks before his death. This proves what they did, and it sends Julian packing without saying goodbye.

Finally, the book ends with Charles becoming enraged and attempting to kill Henry but shoots Papen in the process. To end it all, Henry kills himself. This dissipates the group and they all go their separate ways.


The book was a good thriller, but there were some things much too large to overlook.

  • The characters are unrealistic. I refuse to believe there are people that actually act like this in real life, let alone during the 1990’s in New England. Even the way they dress in clothes from a whole other century even though NO ONE else at their college dresses that way feels so odd and just out of place.
  • Francis has no personality. Besides for the fact he is gay, Tartt gives Francis zero depth and never really goes into his character. She is very sure to mention how he tries to flirt with Papen and had relations with Henry, and it just felt like she didn’t know what to do with him. He didn’t have very many lines either, and I ended up forgetting about him half of the time.


  • The concept for this novel is so cool. I love the idea of a group of people coming together and just doing creepy things in the woods. It reminded me a lot of Midsommar with that feeling of trying to unlock the unknown in people. Henry’s just unhinged nature added a nice flare to the book and made it feel almost feral.
  • It was full of references. I loved the sheer amount of references to languages, literature and art there were in this book. It honestly made me feel smart reading it, even though I had to look up almost all of them.
  • Henry’s character was awesome. Henry actually made the whole book. His psychotic personality was such a good source of conflict and I loved seeing the dark sides of all of the characters’ personalities.

Honestly, the book wasn’t too bad. I enjoyed it fairly well, but the characters were so entitled, it was impossible to like any of them. If you like thrillers, I would recommend it, but beware the characters are just AWFUL.

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About the Contributor
Mallory Mills
Mallory Mills, Print Co-Editor-In-Chief; Yearbook Section Editor
Mallory Mills is a senior at West High and this is her second year on yearbook and the Wahawk Insider staff. She is a reporter for the Wahawk Insider and is the People and Clubs/Orgs section editor for Yearbook. Outside of school, Mallory is usually listening to music, spending time with her family and friends, or attending a concert.
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