Donna Tartt’s first novel is as seductive and vicious as the Dionysian bacchanals her otherworldly characters hold in the woods. A tale about an insular crew of classics students at a small fictional college based on Bennington—an alma mater Tartt shares with other Gen X literary greats—the story is told by one friend years after the death of a member of the group. In this mercilessly paced thriller, Tartt ratchets up the tension by balancing collegiate elitism with wild revelry and shocking violence with effete intellectualism. She invents a parochial group of students you would never want to hang out with, but can’t tear yourself away from. Tartt would go on to win the Pulitzer Prize for The Goldfinch in 2014, more than 20 years after the 1992 release of The Secret History. But it’s her first novel, and its twisted inversion of campus life, that remains her most disconcerting. —Tessa Berenson Rogers

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