This year, novelist Donna Tartt published her third novel, The Goldfinch. It was highly touted; I heard about it on NPR, and it popped up repeatedly on Amazon and Goodreads as I browsed. It sounds fabulously interesting, and I’m looking forward to reading it.
For better or for worse, however, I am a frequent flyer at my local library and choose to borrow instead of purchase the vast majority of the books I read. (From a space- and money-saving standpoint, it really doesn’t make sense for me to live any other way, when my stated life goal is to Read All The Books.) Naturally, with a new release as popular as The Goldfinch, I have a considerable wait ahead of me before I get my two weeks with a copy.
And I can wait. I’m not averse to patience when I have the promise of a great book ahead of me. I was interested to hear, though, that Tartt has published only three novels in twenty years. NPR helpfully informed me, as NPR so often does, that The Secret History was her highly successful debut, published in 1992.
My fellow library fans can guess how this story ends: I got on the waiting list for The Goldfinch, but instead of cooling my heels, I also nabbed an available copy of The Secret History. Because while recently-published books are always in demand, scads and scads of great books that aren’t so spanky-new are available for immediate pickup, no waiting required.
And whoa my goodness, The Secret History is quality stuff. It’s 500 dense pages and feels like an undertaking, but it’s surprisingly absorbing and only bogs down in a couple of places. The narrator, Richard, leaves a disappointing and vapid life in California to attend college in Vermont. He finds himself accepted into a seemingly elite group of students who are studying Greek, taking nearly all their classes from the same eccentric professor. Richard wants badly to be accepted into the inner circle, but he doesn’t realize he’ll be sucked into his classmates’ incestuous, manipulative little world. These are privileged kids, of varying levels of considerable wealth, and they seem to believe rules are for the common folk. Years later, Richard is still trying to make sense of the dark choices they made, and find absolution for his role in the sordid business.
Bottom line: Read this book, and remind yourself that plenty of great literature was published prior to this year.