I’m mixed about The Secret Keeper. On the one hand, I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. On the other hand, books of this genre just feel a little “overdone” to me. And by genre I guess I mean historical-melodrama-mystery type novel. Kate Morton is certainly a good writer, and she gave us a twisty-turny story that takes us from the 30s to modern day. I liked the juxtaposition of three generations in a family, where one teenage daughter vows never to turn into her mother, and 20-some years later her daughter makes the same vow. I can appreciate that.
The Secret Keeper tells the story of Laurel and her mother Dorothy. Laurel grows up in a near-perfect family, with a comfy farmhouse, loads of siblings and two loving parents. At the age of sixteen, while hiding from her family, she watches her mother commit a violent act that no one else ever knows about. It’s not until many years later, as Dorothy is close to death, that she tries to uncover what happened that day.
Dorothy’s story begins as a teenager in 1938 – she’s rebellious, over-dramatic, and embarrassed by her family. She longs to get away and experience excitement and drama. Her parents want her to work as a secretary in her father’s bicycle factory, but that future sounds like a slow death to Dorothy. Instead she meets a guy, runs to London and tries to live the life she dreams of.
The framing of the story is interesting. We start out in 1961, when Laurel is sixteen. Then we go back to 1941, where Dorothy has an urgent discussion with her friend Vivien about a plan that’s gone all wrong, while the bombs are dropping on London. Then we jump to 2011, then back to 1961, and then all the way back to 1938.
The whole time I read the book, I kept thinking of the conversation in 1941, and trying to figure out how Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy could have possibly gotten to that place in time. Am I confusing you? This book was definitely mysterious. Every time you think you know what’s going on, Morton throws a curve ball.
One of the problems with the book, however, is that Dorothy is written as almost a caricature, and a terribly unlikeable one at that. I liked Laurel’s character although I found her selfish. Dorothy is just horrible, which makes it hard to really buy into the story.
I did like the idea of uncovering your parents’ secret past, and the idea that we only know our parents as parents, not as what they were before we were born.
Morton’s not terribly subtle, but it is an entertaining book with interesting characters. Jimmy unfolds gradually, going from just a romantic figure to someone real and complex by the end. One of the characters is an author and the only thing we know about his character is through descriptions of his books. Gerry, Laurel’s younger brother, is brilliant but awkward. I wanted to know him better.
I think the problem with this book is everything is just too extreme. The characters aren’t just beautiful, they’re gorgeous. Life is either a wild party, a horrific tragedy, or a bucolic childhood in the country. It’s all a little too bright and shiny. This book would make a great movie or miniseries – lots of glamour and conflict with World War II as a backdrop. It’s just not a read that will stay with me for long.
Note: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from NetGalley.