the secret history
Published in 1992, I wish I'd read it back then, as I was also going into college like Richard, the protagonist. Also, then there wouldn't be twenty two years of enviable, fawning reviews. Twenty two years of Oh my God, when I finally read this book, it's going to be life changing, I'm finally going to understand what everyone's talking about, I'm finally going to know why 90% of literary thrillers since then claim to be just like The Secret History!" (Please see Karen's wonderful list.)
Since I recognize all of this, I'm going to go ahead and tip this over to four goodreads stars instead of three that I might have otherwise considered. Without expecting some twist I was for some reason convinced was going to happen but it didn't, without having read The Goldfinch first, I do believe I would've easily given this book four stars.
But the ugly protagonists once again prevent me from giving the book a full five stars. Every one of the characters has some level of self absorption, disregard for everyone else, nasty behavior, that makes it difficult to relate to them. I've read other reviews where the reader was affronted by the lack of punishment for the group, but at least in the murder of Bunny, I couldn't care less whether they were brought to justice for his murder. I was convinced of their justifications for doing so, and when the rest of his social and family life was illuminated I thought it a relief that be wouldn't get any older to continue to be as vile as the rest of them.
I did tolerate and accept them better than I did with the characters in The Sheltering Sky, though, because there are a few glimpses of humanity, a few feelings to empathize with, and the storyline was strong enough to keep me engaged. Richard's desires and earnest need to belong (and we can certainly consider him to be an unreliable narrator but I'm perfectly happy to accept his viewpoint without much criticism) were understandable.
But.... ugh. Okay. I can't really justify my lack of full support here (not that I have to), but there was just a lack of living up to the built up expectations, and some disappointment in the structure of the book. The updates at the end, for certain, felt unnecessary and unwanted, and the anti-climactic second half of the book, in part. I say in part because as with presenting Theo's life in the aftermath of the bombing in The Goldfinch, the actions and dynamics of the group after Richard's murder is one of the primary reasons for the story to even exist, it just felt like it could have been more brief.