In my free time, I like to read history articles on Wikipedia. It’s so addicting- clicking link after link and just learning about all the marvelous things in history. My favorite time in English history that I like to read about is World War I to World War II era. I like how it feels like a bygone era, full of loss of innocence and intrigue.
It’s really no surprise then, that I was psyched to receive the galley for Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper (Atria Books [division of Simon and Schuster], 9781439152805), a novel that goes from pre-WWII England to the 60’s and beyond. The Secret Keeper is a mixture of mystery, family saga, and love, an amalgam of all the things I love.
The novel starts with the lines “Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer’s day at the start of the nineteen sixties. The house is unassuming: half-timbered, with white paint peeling gently on the western side and clematis scrambling up the plaster. The chimney post are steaming and you know, just by looking, that there’s something warm and tasty simmering on the stove top beneath. It’s something in the way the vegetable patch has been laid out, just so, at the back of the house; the proud gleam of the leadlight windows; the careful patching of the roofing tiles. “People say that the introduction of a work, be it an essay, a novel, a poem, anything, is an indicator of how the work is. The Secret Keeper starts with a gentle, yet powerful portrayal of a farmhouse and readers know that the novel is going to be amazing.
Some novels manage to start strong and somewhere in the middle, lose steam. The Secret Keeper is not such a novel and it always kept me interested, to the end. What’s surprising about this book is that the novel switches between two periods and two perspectives (third person narration for both), yet it still feels complete. It’s due to Kate Morton’s masterful and adept writing at keeping the ship afloat that she is able to weave an intricate story.
The novel starts off with a sixteen year old, Laurel Nicolson, daydreaming in her tree house. From that tree house, she witnesses her mother, Dorothy, do something so out of character that it haunts Laurel for the rest of her life. Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful actress and her mother is dying. Laurel wants to piece together what happened that fateful day.
Told in parallel is the story of Dorothy during pre-WWII England and everything fits together into a perfect picture. Despite the constant switching back and forth between perspectives, the book is not at all confusing. I can’t see another way to tell the story.
On the back of the galley, it says, “The Secret Keeper explores the longings and dreams and the unexpected consequences they sometimes bring. It is an unforgettable story of lovers and friends, deception and passion that is told- in Morton’s signature style- against a backdrop of events that changed the world.” I can’t see another way to describe The Secret Keeper in a more concise way. It accomplishes so much- captures the atmosphere of England, perfects the switching between perspectives, creates a memorable story, and makes a visceral read.
The idea of “things are not what they seem” is carried throughout the book, from the cover all the way to the last page of the book. The cover of The Secret Keeper resembles an old children’s novel or movie, idyllic and calm. However, there’s an unnatural feel to it, the cover’s not an illustration after all, but a photograph, set against a pink sky, framed with baroque-style edges. Similarly, the ending is a total surprise. Yet it’s not a surprise that is illogical, rather it’s a surprise that is fitting. Despite the seemingly sad ending, I can’t see another way to end the novel. The ending was perfect, just like the rest of the book.
When I finished The Secret Keeper and read the author’s biography, I was surprised. Kate Morton is Australian. I read the whole book thinking that the story was written by a British author since the atmosphere was so pitch-perfect.
The Secret Keeper is a cross-generational story that’s relatable with soft, wondering prose that gets the reader wanting for more since the writing is beautiful. It’s a definite must read for fall.
Review copy provided by the publisher