The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Fawcett Columbine, 3rd printing, 1996
Genre: thriller, mystery, literary fiction
Synopsis & Review: The snow in the mountains was melting and Bunny had been dead for several weeks before we came to understand the gravity of our situation. So Donna Tartt’s The Secret History opens, announcing Bunny’s death and that the story we are bout to read will explain how and why it happened, as well as what happened after. Our narrator is Richard Papen, a lower middle class Californian who transplants himself to a tiny liberal arts college in Hampden, Vermont, in search of beauty. Enchanted by a small group of Classics students, he joins their ranks, but not without some difficulty. Charming twins Charles and Camilla, the wealthy libertine Francis, the genius Henry, and the amusing Bunny make up the circle of disciples worshiping at the feet of Julian Morrow, who acts as Aristotle to the group. Charmed and thrilled to be part of the inner circle, Richard fabricates a glamorous wealthy background for himself and throws himself into their lives with abandon. Gradually, Richard learns what’s been going on in the background as he’s been getting acquainted with the group: while replicating a bacchanal, Henry, Francis, and the twins inadvertently committed a murder. Bunny, also left out on that occasion and resentful, knows too, but poses a threat to the group due to his erratic behavior. Drawn into the cover up, Richard and the others scheme to murder Bunny to protect themselves. What seems so simply achieved, however, grows more entangled and ugly as they begin facing the reality of what they’ve done.
Disclosure: As The Secret History is one of my all-time favorite books, always in my top five, and I’ve read it about a dozen times now. Since I am quite passionate about it, I find it difficult to be objective about it. So I will try to make this short, with a minimum of gushing. click here for more about The Secret History
Conan the Swordsman by L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, and Björn Nyberg
Bantam, 1st printing, 1978
Genre: fantasy, adventure, sword & sorcery
Synopsis & Review: Before he wore the jeweled crown of Aquilonia upon a troubled brow, Conan the Cimmerian (or more popularly, Conan the Barbarian) traveled the Hyborian world. From Asgard in the north to Vendhya in the east he wandered, from southern Stygia to the Barachan Isles of the west, and into the Pictish Wilderness. He was a thief, a pirate, a mercenary, and a general. He battled men, demons, and monsters. He was Conan the Swordsman.
Oh, hells yes. In theory. You see, though Robert E. Howard created Conan, after his too-shirt career and too-early death, the Conan stories became a lucrative franchise, with more stories, novels, and even comics, games, movies, and television series, both animated and live action. These later pastiches were written by the likes of L. Sprague de Camp, Lin Carter, Björn Nyberg, Robert Jordan, Poul Anderson, Leonard Carpenter, and Harry Turtledove, among others. Some of Howard’s original works were even expurgated of some content, and also revised and rewritten, notably by Cater and de Camp. And in the comics and movies, Conan and the Hyborian world differed noticeably from Howard’s depiction. Due to the vast body of work (over fifty novels and dozens of short stories) and the many and varied writers, there is not even one agreed upon chronology of Conan’s life, but five. Of course the quality varies drastically, some writers being accomplished in their own right, while other efforts are simply elevated fan fiction. click here to continue reading about my Conan adventures
There are some pretty bad books out there, ones that just waste your tme, but I really cannot say that I would wish them unread. Even if I dislike somehting, I can count it as a learning experience, even though it might be the most basic and mundane of lessons: “God, this sucked! Remember not to read anything by An Author again!”
Sometimes, if you’re lucky, then they’re hilarious.
Last week I finished White Fang, Faerie Tale, and The Last Unicorn, all of which were sudden inspirational reads–you know, when you just have to read something, regardless of what you meant to read? I do that a lot.
I have also started both Waverley and Thérèse Raquin. I made an earlier, abortive attempt to read the former, but got no further than the first chapter. This time, it’s going much better; once the first five (short) chapters are forged through, it’s much easier going. As for the latter, I am still plugging through the Introduction, being pathologically unable to skip it in a critical edition. I have high hopes, though.I also read a story from Conan the Swordsman, a de Camp/Carter/Nyberg Conan effort, and will probably continue that.
The Secret History is still on my nightstand; every couple of days I pick it up and read a few pages. I have re-read it so many times that I don’t lose anything by reading it in fits and starts. Rather, I think it may enhance my appreciation of it, since I tend to just power through it in my excitement. This way, I can slow down and savor it again.
I may pick up The Art of Eating by MFK Fisher again this week; I keep looking at it–or rather, it keeps looking at me when I’m on my computer. Though I finished “How to Cook a Wolf,” there are still four more books in it for the reading. And Angela lent me her copy of The Outlandish Companion, which I really should read so that I can get it back to her.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
Originally published 1968
Del Rey, 23rd printing, 1984
Synopsis & Review:In a quiet lilac wood lived a unicorn, alone but for the animals she watches over. Watching two hunters in her wood one day, she learns that there are no other unicorns left in the world, that none have been sighted in at least three generations. Frightened at the thought of being the only unicorn, she leaves her wood in search of the others. Out in the world again, the unicorn discovers that things have changed. No one believes in unicorns any longer, and so they no longer recognize her, thinking her just an odd white mare. Thanks to hints from a capricious butterfly, the unicorn searches for King Haggard and the Red Bull, for they hold the key to the mystery of where the unicorns went. Along the way she gathers companions, the largely incompetent Schmendrick the Magician and also Molly Grue, a sometime Maid Marian. When they encounter the Red Bull, the unicorn cannot resist him, and Schmendrick is forced to use magic to transform the unicorn into a human girl to save her. In human guise, she and her companions enter King Haggard’s castle, seeking the unicorns before the last unicorn forgets what she is forever and becomes mortal. click here to continue reading
Faerie Tale by Raymond E. Feist
Doubleday, 1st printing (galley), 1988
Genre: fantasy, horror
Synopsis & Review: An old house surrounded by untouched woodlands is the scene as successful screenwriter Phil Hastings uproots his family, relocating from California to a century-old farm outside a small town in rural New York. Despite some initial trepidations, the family settles in, eight year-old twins Sean and Patrick playing sandlot baseball, while teenage Gabbie romances neighboring grad student Jack. The idyll does not last long, however; The Bad Thing, which lurks under a bridge near the house, menaces the twins and a mysterious young man sexually assaults Gabbie. In the woods, people are lost and see creatures of unearthly beauty and terror, things only found in old tales and folklore. When the Hastings find a horde of gold on their property, all hell breaks loose as they unwittingly violate an ancient Compact between mankind and The Good People. click here to continue reading