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19 March 2008 @ 07:22 pm
The Secret History, Donna Tartt, 1992

From the dust jacket:
Storytelling in the grand manner, The Secret History is a debut remarkable for its hypnotic erudition and acute psychological suspense, and for the richness of its emotions, ideas and language.
These are the confessions, years afterward, of a young man who found at a small Vermont college the life of privilege and intellect he'd long coveted--and rarely has the glorious experience of youth infatuated with knowledge and with itself been so achingly realized. Then, amazed, Richard Papen is drawn into the ultimate inner circle: five students, worldly and self-assured, selected by a charismatic classics professor to participate in the search for truth and beauty. Together they study the mysteries of ancient Greek culture and spend long weekends at an old country house, reading, boating, basking in an Indian summer that stretches late into autumn.
Mesmerized by his new comrades, Richard is unaware of the crime which they have committed in his dreamy, unwitting presence. But once taken into their confidence, he and the others slowly and inevitably begin to believe in the necessity of murdering the one classmate and friend who might betray both their secret and their future.
Hugely ambitious and compulsively readable, this is a chronicle of deception and complicity, of Dionysian abandon, of innocence corrupted by self-love and moral arrogance; and, finally, it is a story of guilt and responsibility. An astonishing achievement by any standard, The Secret History immediately establishes Donna Tartt as a supremely gifted novelist.

My review:
If you like mysteries, if you like Ancient Greece, if you like tragedies, or if you just like a damn good book, The Secret History is amazing. It's not the most uplifting book in the world, since it is a tragedy. It left me with the most beautiful feeling of remorse and regret, and it does an excellent job of touching on several elements of Greek Tragedy (catharsis and hubris, not to mention the closest I've ever seen anyone come to describing Dionysiac frenzy). I don't have sufficient words to describe this book, but I cannot recommend it highly enough.
19 March 2008 @ 05:41 pm
The Prisoner of Zenda, Anthony Hope, 1894

The Prisoner of Zenda is an adventure novel by Anthony Hope, published in 1894. The king of the fictional country of Ruritania is abducted on the eve of his coronation, and the protagonist, an English gentleman on holiday who fortuitously resembles the monarch, is persuaded to act as his political decoy in an attempt to save the situation. The books were extremely popular and inspired a new genre of Ruritanian romance, including the Graustark novels by George Barr McCutcheon. The villainous Rupert of Hentzau gave his name to the sequel published in 1898, which is included in some editions of this novel. - From Wikipedia

My review:
Adventure novels just don't get any better than The Prisoner of Zenda. Daring swordfights, villainous schemes, and a damsel who manages mostly to stay out of distress and has an admirable amount of backbone and personality (for a romantic interest from late Victorian novel written by a man). There's nothing new in the premise--a king's look-alike is forced by plot to impersonate the king in order to save the kingdom. But it's carried out far better than I've seen anywhere else. The plot is top-notch, the characters vivid, and the writing is a breeze compared to some of the impenetrable prose of other Victorian authors. And if you have a thing for bad boys, Rupert of Hentzau is my all-time favorite villain and one of my all-time favorite characters. I think even the main character has a crush on him, since he describes Rupert with such admiration and loathing, calling him "reckless and wary, graceful and graceless, handsome, debonair, vile, and unconquered."

Also, if you liked The Prisoner of Zenda, be sure to check out its sequel, Rupert of Hentzau, in which everyone's favorite Ruritanian playboy makes the hero's life difficult. Less adventure and more moral conundrums, but hey, it has Rupert.