Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Secret Keeper

In the summer of 1961, during a family celebration at their Green Acres 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.
In her spellbinding new novel, The Secret Keeper, Gothic novelist Kate Morton spins a family mystery over half a century. Laurel, her three sisters, and her young brother, Gerry, gather in the days after their mother’s ninetieth birthday, to nurse her in the final weeks of her life in a London hospital. They work to fit together the pieces of a complicated puzzle of Dorothy Nicholson’s childhood to the days prior to her death.  Laurel embarks on a desperate search for the truth about her mother’s past where everyone seems to have something to hide. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivien—an heiress who was also orphaned when a car crash claimed her parents and siblings in Australia—is her first clue.
Rich with detail and lyrical prose, this novel explores longings and dreams, the lengths some people will go to fulfill them, and the strange consequences they sometimes have.   The Secret Keeper is captivating with its story of vivid and visceral characters that are lovers, friends, dreamers and schemers—it is deception told against a backdrop of events that changed the world, and the lives of some its complex characters.  One woman believes being with a brutally cruel man is her penance for something she did as a child, while another woman is in awe of the first, who she assumes lives a charmed life, and conquers a one-sided friendship—yet becomes angry and disillusioned when her unrequited comradeship isn't acknowledged. Her envy and an unrealistic sense of entitlement help fuel her own anger, which ignites an unfounded grudge that is sprinkled with a few grains of greed.  And then there is the man in both of their lives, the innocent photographer who, because of love, gets caught up in a web of deceit and a sordid plot that may not only cause him to lose the love of his life, but may very well cost him his life.
This is an intriguing tale that not only entertains, but compels readers to diligently flip through page after enticing page to uncover the details of Dorothy’s mysterious past.  When one mystery is uncovered, another puzzling incident arises.
The Secret Keeper will have readers rooting for and sympathizing with certain characters; however, as some dreadfully shocking details and disturbing character flaws are revealed, it may cause those very same readers to feel a sense of betrayal for the compassion they allowed themselves to feel for the undeserving. In spite of everything, readers will no doubt enjoy this book as they grow to hate a character or two, while they continue to read, just to see if he or she gets what’s coming to them.
Morton’s novels aren’t necessarily formulaic, but they do all seem to follow a similar pattern.  Present day characters run across a clue or two that makes them suddenly keen to delve into their family history, about which they were strangely incurious—and in this particular novel the formula does seem to apply: a daughter’s curiosity about her mother’s past is triggered by an old photograph and the mystery ensues as the story alternates between 2011 and 1941.
Most writers attempt to entertain readers and some writers attempt to convey a story. Then there is the rare group of writers who manage to tell an interesting story that entertains the reader.  The latter is my take on Kate Morton—I must admit I enjoyed the writing style she lends to this story; she is a gifted writer with excellent literary poise which enhances the storyline with astonishing regularity.

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