This is book was wack. I think? Let’s start at the top of Tartt’s story.
Richard, a lonely boy from California, transfers colleges and attends the fictional Hampden in Vermont. Hampden calls to mind all the idealized, old money, ivy league, exclusive schools shown in movies. The kids are rich and super removed from the real world, secluded both geographically and culturally. Here, Richard hears about a classics professor who only takes on five students, never any more, becomes their adviser and only teacher. It is the mysterious ‘it’ group. This calls to the lonely excluded part of Richard, and he tries to join. His first attempt is unsuccessful but lucky for him, he knows Greek. He gets in.
The teacher, Julian, didn’t play as large a role in the narrative as I thought he would, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t important. Then you have the students already in the group. Henry; rich, genius, cunning, often a mystery. Francis; rich, alcoholic mother, gay. The twins, Charles and Camilla who have some serious issues. And Bunny; annoying, poor but pretending to be rich, and a complete jerk.
Bunny dies. In fact, all his ‘friends’ kill him. (That’s not a spoiler, it happens in the first chapter.) The initial question is, why?
Do those characters sound like they belong in a Greek tragedy? They should.
As for the plot, I’d organize it into 3 main categories.
- World building. This is a fat chunk of the book. We learn a lot here on the school and on Richard, but not a lot about the others.
- The lead up to the murder, and murder. When Richard, and us as readers, are finally let in on the secret. Important from a plot standpoint but not actually a large part of the text.
- The short and long term aftermath. Another sizable portion of the book. Includes an unimpressive ending.
Unfortunately, I can’t give you more details than this. I’m being intentionally vague.
Not because I don’t have things to say, believe me. I always have things to say. But so much won’t make any sense if you haven’t read it. So I’ll just give you the most important takeaways.
- I hated all of the characters. Seriously. They were a bunch of rich entitled kids who were jerks and threw money at their problems, that they created, to try to make them go away. And they were completely unsympathetic, I didn’t feel bad for anyone. Including Bunny.
- It captured the romanticized, surreal qualities of being in college. You’re almost an adult but without the responsibilities. It’s a community created by mutual struggle- aka school.
- The writing was beautiful. In some parts I was like ‘we get it, heavily influenced by the classics.’ But that was part of the point. And Tartt managed to pull it off.
- The ending was garbage. After all that, that’s what you’re going to do? Nope. Not on board.
Now, I know there are people who LOVE this book. Like, live and die by Tartt. And they would read this and probably tell me I needed to be admitted. But I don’t care about the larger symbolisms, if I hate every single character then I’m not going to like the book.
So I would say skip it. But, if you’ve read this far into the post and you really want to spite me, here’s the link to buy it any way.
I have The Goldfinch, also by Tartt, so at some point I’ll revisit her. But it may be awhile. Like, a long while.