Monday, August 10, 2009

Finally, a SH post

I'm glad you've jumped in and started posting. Even though I stayed up late reading, I just couldn't get enough computer time to write anything until now..

Anyway, I have to state upfront that I have a fondness for The Secret History because it's one of the very first books my husband and I read together, freshman year of college. To me it's one of those college nostalgia novels, along with Brideshead Revisited (another early read with my husband), so perhaps my view of it is wrapped up in those memories. I'm glad to hear fresh takes on it.

Something that rang true for me at the very beginning of the book was Richard's desire for beauty in the midst of ugliness. He's very drawn to superficial beauty, it's true, but there's also a deeper longing for something true and permanent. I think he mistakes the elegance and erudition of his little coterie up at Hampden for something truer and more beautiful than it turns out to be. Both my husband and I come from rather lower middle class economic backgrounds (though our parents were immensely more cultured and educated and loving than Richard's parents were) and so we connected with his upward longings and his class insecurity. I don't know whether you could really pass yourself off as being from a rich family if you had never lived in that world, but all the characters were such liars that they seemed to accept other people's lies. A lot of the tension in the section before the murder comes from Bunny's tendency to pick apart people's lies in a particularly malicious and public fashion.

Julian seemed like a kind of Dr. Frankenstein character to me. He loves molding these minds and pontificating on "the sublime", but he's completely out of touch with reality, or with the implications of anything he's teaching. He's happy to encourage the students to recreate the Dionysian rituals, but once there are actually serious consequences to those actions, it's clear that he doesn't really believe in what he's saying. He's a very cold manipulative character who doesn't really care about anything but himself, and the students don't realize it until it's too late. In a sense he's like the character in The Brothers Karamazov who talks about how anarchy and murder is all fun and games, and then is horrified when someone takes him seriously and acts in a way that has real and ugly consequences.

Gotta run now because my girls are spraying whipped cream in the kitchen...


Otepoti said...

So, when you and your husband-to-be read it together, did you pass the book back-and-forth? Or did you sit close together at a table and read the same page together? :-)

The last time I saw that happen, it was at the food court outside the book chain that was selling the last Harry Potter, and families were grabbing their copies and sitting straight down at the tables and sharing the copy between two or even three. It was very cute to see, whatever you think of Harry Potter.

What would life be if we permitted ourselves only strictly rational attachments? (How ever would we keep on loving our children, even? What with whipped cream and all?)

All of which is to say, I'm glad you shared a favourite book, and I'm glad to have read it in company with you.


mrsdarwin said...

Actually, he read it out loud to me. On some break we went to my family's house, and I remember sitting in a cemetery within walking distance of the house, reading in the shade of a tree, in the midst of the old headstones. Very romantic!

Emily said...

Reading in a cemetary does sound very romantic - and apropos of this book! I like your comments about Richard's longing for the sublime and the beautiful. It might have lifted the book from being a few hours' entertainment to being something that lifts the soul if there had been some realization at the end on the part of the characters about the value of life or the damages to the soul from destroying life or to something bigger than themselves. Or am I missing something at the end?

Otepoti, I totally agree with you about the caricature of Cocorrans. At first I thought the group might have been struck by the grief of the Cocorrans when they first heard of Bunny's death - that despite their poor parenting, they truly loved and would miss their son. But instead they remained comic characters and self-involved instead of really grief stricken.

Although I don't mind spending a few hours on entertaining fiction (or blogs - at least I don't watch tv, I tell myself), I'm always on the lookout for really good reads. I loved the email exchange about what everyone wanted to read. Maybe we should have a sidebar or something with our reading wishlists or favorites ...