The Secret History by Donna Tartt

It really goes to show that sometimes when your friends recommend you something, it ends up being one of the best things you’ve read in a long while – and also helps to increase your trust in your friends’ tastes. The Secret History by Donna Tartt is one of those books for me, as almost everyone at work – and a few outside of work – have told me for ages that I would adore it. Every time I mentioned that I hadn’t read it, I would receive a gasp from my audience which would be immediately followed by something along the lines of ‘But you have to read it, you’re going to love it’. They were right.

*This is a spoiler free review*

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Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality they slip gradually from obsession to corruption and betrayal, and at last – inexorably – into evil.

This book is narrated by Richard, a young man from California who moves to a university/college to study Classics (and this is where I do a mini dance for the glory of study Classics, but a word of warning: if you study Classics you will not do what these students do. Or at least I bloody well hope not). On arrival at his new college, he discovers that there is an elite group of students who study with one particular teacher, who is known for refusing to take on anyone else. When Richard manages to be accepted into the fold, he discovers that there are many secrets within this group, ones that he is desperate to discover.

What is immediately enticing about this book is that it does not start with Richard moving to this new school. No, instead this book starts with the murder of one of these students, a young man nicknamed Bunny, at the hands of his classmates. Now before you start declaring me as your spoiler enemy, relax – this is said on the blurb and on the opening page. You go into this book knowing that somehow, and for some reason, Richard and these other elite students decide to murder Bunny. You only get a few pages in this opening before it jumps back to when Richard joins the college, and he narrates from some distant time that you’re not exactly aware of. I worried that I would grow bored of a book knowing this climax, but I was entirely wrong. There are so many other events that take place, and experiencing a book knowing that one of the main characters will be murdered is unlike any other. You’re constantly trying to connect the dots to various secrets and see how they all add up, and you’re questioning every tiny detail. I was desperate to keep reading only so I could find out what was going on, and once you know the secrets it feels like you as a reader are included in this elitist group.

I enjoyed the Classics references for obvious reasons, and all I can say is that after reading several books recently that made me feel slightly stupid for not getting the references (looking at you Chris Kraus), I was overjoyed to understand the finer details of this book. You grow to love these strange characters, and equally fall out of love with them. Tartt’s writing is beautiful and elegant, her sentences almost like poetry at times with the lyrical, whimsical nature. Storytelling at its finest, and it has to be when you know about Bunny’s murder from the get-go.

Overall, this book was an easy five stars for me. I’d recommend it to everyone, especially classics lovers, as it blends literary fiction with murder mystery with thriller. Just brilliant.

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milk and honey by Rupi Kaur

This is a very difficult review for me to write, especially as this is a collection of poems that has become a sensation. I always want to support anything that gets people reading, and what I will say now is that this is the first lot of poetry that I have read outside of university reading for a long, long time. Because of this collection I will be going on to try more poetry, and for that I’m grateful. Before getting into it, here’s a quick overview of what milk and honey is.

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milk and honey is a collection of poetry and prose about survival. It is about the experience of violence, abuse, love, loss, and femininity. It is split into four chapters, and each chapter serves a different purpose, deals with a different pain, heals a different heartache. milk and honey takes readers through a journey of the most bitter moments in life and finds sweetness in them because there is sweetness everywhere if you are just willing to look.

This poetry collection started out as a social media sensation where Rupi Kaur rose to fame, only to become an international bestseller. It’s easy to see why this book resonates with so many, especially with women as Kaur chronicles her experiences. It is without doubt that the author has poured her heart intro this text, and I went in to read this boosted by all of the hype surrounding it. Split into four sections, Kaur has very short poems and illustrations within each. Very short, to the point where you can probably get through it within a day (as did I). What I will say is that I thought the illustrations added a lot to the text itself, and without them I think my overall review of the poems would have been much lower.

As a whole, this particular poetry collection did not speak to me or resonate, but what I found difficult was that I wasn’t impressed by the poems. Even though you might not enjoy something, you can appreciate and respect it for what it is, yet milk and honey just came across as lazy poetry to me. This, of course, is coming from someone that reads very little poetry, so remember that I am no expert. The best qualification I have is that I’ve participated in a lot of epic poetry modules in the past (yay for Homer and Milton) and within the last year have studied sonnets in depth. So I have some knowledge from an education standing, and again whilst I did not like every sonnet I read, I could see why it was so clever and creative. This is why, when reading milk and honey, I could not understand what it is that brought such attention. Perhaps it’s the stark portrayal of womanhood, and the themes that are dealt with are challenging and explicit, yet I just kept wanting more. Whenever there was a moment, say Rupi Kaur makes a statement about race or femininity or gender, she just leaves it without expanding on it. This was the most frustrating thing for me, as it felt like she wasn’t doing anything new with it all.

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I wanted to scream ‘show don’t tell’ at the author all the way through. She left nothing to the imagination, to the point where it felt like she was demeaning the importance of the reader. Nothing was left to interpretation – almost every poem had a line in italics at the bottom which literally told you what the poem was about. It felt like an author writing a sentence in their book such as ‘he stared at the walls, everything a dark, miserable blue (he is very sad, so everything is dark blue because he is sad, it’s all awful, and sad)’. Ok, maybe that’s a little over-exaggerated, but that is what I felt when reading this. I felt like my role as a reader was diminished, that instead of it being a conversation between writer and reader it was a lecture. No room for interpretation or creativity or thought, just bam this is what I think no you cannot speak this is about me.

The latter section entitled ‘healing’ was by far my favourite, and the poems that I liked the most were from this section. I definitely think that there are good poems within the collection that I did enjoy, but on the whole it didn’t resonate with me. I wanted it to be more complex, less simplistic, encouraging me to find meanings rather than telling me. The messages she tried to get across are brilliant, but I’d prefer it if she found a more lyrical, allusive way of speaking to the reader, rather than just explicitly stating what she wanted the reader to take from each poem.

So, whilst not the same reaction as the majority of the population, this was mine. And I know, I am one person amongst millions and my thoughts are completely my own and should not affect your appreciation of the text. No one should feel like they should/should not like this collection just due to one person’s opinion. If you have read it, or are planning on it, please let me know so we can discuss it – I’d love to hear from people who absolutely adore it, and would love to see it from another angle.

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