How many books deserve a re-read as soon as we turn the last page? Today’s review is one of those wonderful gems that encouraged me to re-indulge by reading large sections throughout and to see and smile at how cleverly the tapestry was crafted.
Kate Morton (Goodreads Author)
During a summer party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is happily dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and watches as her mother speaks to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime. A crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy—her vivacious, loving, nearly perfect mother.
Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress living in London. The family is gathering at Greenacres farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday. Realizing that this may be her last chance, Laurel searches for answers to the questions that still haunt her from that long-ago day, answers that can only be found in Dorothy’s past.
Dorothy’s story takes the reader from pre–WWII England through the blitz, to the ’60s and beyond. It is the secret history of three strangers from vastly different worlds—Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy—who meet by chance in wartime London and whose lives are forever entwined. The Secret Keeper explores 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.
Review 5+ stars
The blurb and other reviews for The Secret Keeper hooked me, and I am so grateful as this novel is an amazing read – deserving more than five stars.
When sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson glimpses her mother, Dorothy assault a man in self-defence, the act seems justified and she hides the memory. Thus, the secrets begin – or do they? That is one of the brilliant elements of this novel as there is not just one secret but many, inter-twined over the decades from before Laurel was born. Perhaps, there is more than one Secret Keeper.
Fifty-two years later, as Dorothy is dying, the Nicolson children gather to celebrate her ninetieth birthday, and the discovery of a photograph from WWII of Ma with another young woman poses questions about their mother’s past as the other woman is a stranger from her unspoken wartime experiences. Yet the woman’s name feels familiar to Laurel, except it is only in the end that she realises why.
‘Not about Ma, I mean that young woman. She was a different person back then, with a whole other life we know nothing about.’
Laurel is now sixty-six and a much-loved actress, and she uses her abilities and resources to discover more about her mother’s past. It was great to have this older main protagonist with all her evolving attitudes, memories and experiences – not just in 2011, but when she was much younger as well. And the reader is treated to some distinctive characters in the various periods, notably the 1940s and the present day . Each one has a unique voice and that memorable feature that fixes them in a reader’s mind.
The language feels correct for the various periods as do the settings from fashion and music to the gap between rich and poor. For me, growing up in the 50s and 60s the scenes in those period stirred so many memories. The research seems to have been meticulous at every turn – many of the sources are noted in the acknowledgements.
As the past is gradually revealed, the reader discovers more through Dorothy’s eyes, and Laurel’s discoveries uncover secrets. Kate Morton makes clever use of memories – memories that change over time, memories that are interpretations of events, and memories that spark a wave of emotions.
As a crime novel reader, I know how personal observation can be faulty. Who is Dorothy? Does that depend on who is digging? Who knows what happened? As I kept reading, I learnt about secrets, misunderstandings, and dreams all conspiring as fate propelled events. There were moments when I thought that I had sussed everything out – wrong. The author did a masterly job of weaving an intricate tapestry of events with revelations that kept skewing the plot.
Although Laurel and Dorothy are central to the drama, with some excellent secondary characters, there is a strong feeling throughout that family is everything – from the Nicolson children to the families lost in the Blitz.
Loss is something that many of the characters face. There are poignant moments that becomes memories, beautifully described, especially through childhood eyes. With both Dorothy and Vivien, we get contrasting memories and reactions to events, yet they have experiences in common – and they have secrets. As does Laurel whose own observations have informed her as an actress who can empathise – as the reader does.
‘Laurel knew quite a bit about keeping secrets. She also knew that was where the real people were found, hiding behind their black spots.’
Laurel finds those real people and learns some amazing truths behind the secrets. When I reached The End, I could see the tapestry, but I had to read every key paragraph and chapter again. That re-read was as magical, especially as I could now see the pieces slotting smoothly into place – and hiding the black spots and secrets.
The Secret Keeper is an amazing novel with so many clever twists – a masterful five star plus read.
Story – five stars
Setting/World-building – five stars
Authenticity – five stars
Characters – five stars
Structure – five stars
Readability – five stars
Editing – five stars