Guys, I’ve been reading this book forever! Those of you who are friends with me on GoodReads know it’s been on my “currently reading” shelf for over two weeks. I downloaded it onto my Nook and started reading it on the way to Florida for vacation. Then that classic problem occurred. Shabbat came along and I had to shut off my e-reader and pick up a hard copy – right in the middle of a murder story! That Saturday I picked up Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things and got totally swept up in it. The Secret History lay forgotten that week as I devoured Signature in a matter of days. And then, when I went back to Donna Tartt, I couldn’t muster the same enthusiasm. The plot, the narration, everything just lagged.
I guess that was my main problem with this book – highly feted when it came out in 1998 and being read by many now in anticipation of The Goldfinch: the pacing. The beginning started out really slow. I needed a push from Rachel at A Home Between Pages to keep going. “It gets way better,” she promised me. “Just read until the end of Chapter 3.” (That’s another thing, the chapters in this book – so long!) Well, I did, and found myself back in the game, but then eventually…molasses! And just as I was despairing again (am I ever going to finish this book? Do I even want to? Of course I do, I have to see if the friends get caught!) the end got so dramatic I read the rest with my mouth open.
I think the reason this book got so much attention is because the end is really exciting and when you close the book, that’s all you remember, really – that feeling of “Wow, did that just happen?” But reviewing the book as a whole (the disclaimer being that I didn’t read it continuously) I have to acknowledge those slow parts, the parts that almost made me put down the book. I think authors of thrillers really have to do their best to keep the reader’s interest all the way through. A dramatic climax doesn’t do you any good if you’ve lost the reader long before that. Many parts in this book were just beleaguered. It should have been shorter, told at a faster clip. But then again, the main characters are Greek scholars, students who loll around, a drink in one hand a book in the other. Is it any wonder that Richard tells this story so luxuriously?
Another thought: Perhaps Donna Tartt shouldn’t have revealed so much in the prologue. In just those first few pages, we learn that a group of friends kill their friend for unspecified reasons. After that the rest is just backstory or aftermath. Perhaps that’s why so much of the urgency falls away – much of it isn’t urgent because we already know that it happened.
Anyway. I had issues with this book. BUT if you stick it out all the way through you’ll be treated to a dramatic, expertly-handled climax. I have The Goldfinch on my shelf and I’ve been told that’s a much more readable tale. So perhaps pretty soon I’ll be back with a very different take on Donna Tartt!