With its references to mythology and classic literature, its private school setting, exclusive ‘study group’ and murders it’s not hard to see why I was getting a sense of The Secret History as I read this. Unlike that book, I never got the feeling that our narrator – Violet – was trying to establish herself as better than the group she joins. If anything, her naïveté and somewhat gauche decision-making is understandable and stops us totally disliking her.
Opening with what becomes a key closing image meant there was a definite sense of inevitability to the events contained within. At the beginning, when we’re told about Violet’s family situation, it’s hard not to feel some sympathy for her. How wise the decision to go to this exclusive Academy to study A-levels was is not up for question – but, with an absent mother dealing with grief by opting out, it’s not hard to see how easy it was for Violet to be seduced by the camaraderie offered to her.
Violet does not seem particularly likeable. She ignores obvious issues with those attempting to befriend her, gets herself into crazy situations and seems content to put it down to being seduced by the thrill of what’s happening. The blurring of moral boundaries and the toxicity of the girls’ friendship seemed, to me, to be at the heart of the story. As it’s a theme often explored, linking it to the supernatural and the age-old obsession with ‘difference’ offered another way in.
As the events progressed, it was genuinely hard to work out exactly who was guilty of what. There were hints of so many characters doing inappropriate things that part of me couldn’t help but feel it was inevitable that they’d pay a price of some sort, eventually.
Though this bore resemblances to a number of stories, I felt it came into its own as we watch Violet at the end. Older, a little wiser, but still part of the ongoing cycle that seems to be so vilified throughout.