So – I just found my first absolute GEM in this challenge and it’s a book I had never actually heard of before starting it, which, given what I have learnt about it since, is kinda shocking. I am a big fan of Bret Easton Ellis and have read all of his books, particularly enjoying Less Than Zero and The Rules of Attraction, the latter of which contains some characters which are cross referenced in Tartt’s A Secret History. It transpires that Tartt and Easton Ellis are friends who met at College – and it was this college (Bennington, Vermont) which became the basis for her Hampden and his Camden campuses respectively.
The story is a highly engaging and well written account of some murders which occur around and have links to the group of friends which the narrator (Richard) is part of. It is more a story about WHY the murders happen and how it affects those involved than it is about who committed them and this is one of the fascinating elements of the book. The characters are fabulous; vivid, strongly defined and easy to imagine meeting in your everyday life. From about 5 pages in I was absolutely hooked.
Tartt manages to convey with spooky accuracy the feel of being at college (University in the UK) and that period after arriving where groups of friends are forming and patterns of behaviour become set. It is very believable and some events really do trigger parallels for me as a reader, certain personality types which seem to be obligatory in this environment, expectations and attitudes to drink, sex, drugs. The accuracy of her descriptions paints a highly effective background to the story itself and I believe that this is partly why I found it so mind-blowingly engaging.
I can see some clear similarities with Easton Ellis’ style of writing, mainly the way this is paced, some of the language and the highly engaging characters, but Tartt makes this world totally her own and I believe she is far warmer and less clinical in her story than Easton Ellis usually is in his (not that this is a criticism of his work – which is probably better for being so).
I read this book in about a week, mostly in my usual small segments of time on the tram – but it was one of those which I simply felt desperate to retain engagement with and therefore I spent more time in an evening just blissfully reading for pleasure, lost in their world. I love Tartt’s style of writing and will definitely be looking up her other works off the back of this, I wish I had found her sooner and I guess this is where the #100 books experiment pays dividends because for every godawful Little Women experience, there is a solid gold nugget like this one.
I am now on to The Clan of the Cave Bear and it’s early days but going well. So far 4 books down of the 13 I need to complete before year end which is fair progress to stay on track I think.