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    Donna Tartt on the books that were important to her while writing The Secret History.

    Emily Temple

    December 20, 2022, 3:21pm

    Donna Tartt’s cozy/murderous winter classic The Secret History, which turned 30 this year, is Today’s December Read With Jenna Pick—and the famously publicity-agnostic Tartt answered a few questions about the book and her experiences over the last 30 years for the website.

    The most interesting bit of the interview (to me) was Tartt’s list of books that, she writes, “were important to me when I wrote The Secret History that admirers of the book might enjoy.” So Secret History stans, here’s your winter reading list, direct from the source:

    I couldn’t have written or even thought to write The Secret History without Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which is sharp and shocking as ever on the page—it’s a short novel, very tight and modern by 19th century standards.

    Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain Fournier has a lot to do with the elegiac mood of the novel, the sense of a lost, magical past—so too does The Great Gatsby.

    Cold Heaven by Brian Moore and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson helped me to keep an open sense of what’s possible in a literary novel.

    It’s too bad that people mostly seem to know the film version of The Talented Mr Ripley because the novel, by Patricia Highsmith, differs in key respects and is and far superior.

    The books of George Orwell and of Evelyn Waugh were very important to me during the time I was writing The Secret History and still are. I was reading them obsessively during that time—novels, essays, letters, everything.

    The novels of Vladimir Nabokov are touchstones, as well.

    Anybody wanting to know more about the ideas behind the book should read Bacchae by Euripedes (I like the Richmond Lattimore translation) and Phaedrus and the Apology by Plato—a lot of people will be put off by the mention of Plato but these two dialogues in particular were life-changing.

    Reclaiming Art in the Age of Artifice by JF Martel had not yet been published when I wrote The Secret History but it articulates very clearly some of my ideas about art as a meeting place for ideas otherwise inexpressible and a conduit to realities beyond the human: “True beauty is not pretty. It is a tear in the facade of the everyday, a sudden revelation of the forces seething beneath the surface of things.”

    Read the full interview here.

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