The Glamour of Glamour

James Wood

  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt
    Viking, 524 pp, £9.99, October 1992, ISBN 0 670 84854 9
  • A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley
    Flamingo, 371 pp, £5.99, October 1992, ISBN 0 00 654482 7

Though a mystery story, Donna Tartt’s first novel, The Secret History, holds few secrets. It is as open as a child: its revelations are too frequent to be significant, and its secrets too helpless to be revealing. It is a fairytale about a poor Californian who arrives at a rich New England college and quickly falls in with glamour and murder. Apparently about the nature of evil, it is full of wonder and romance – the romance of money, class, intelligence and beauty. It is swoonily compulsive, like listening to your own heartbeat: its sequence flatters you with what you want to hear. As the book’s narrator, Richard Papen, discovers the golden campus and its gang of five mysterious Classics students, so his yearning to find out more about this cosy world becomes identical with the reader’s, and a childish pact is joined (as in the best romances).

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