Length: 481 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster / Atria Books
From the publisher:
During a party at the family farm in the English countryside, sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson has escaped to her childhood tree house and is dreaming of the future. She spies a stranger coming up the road and sees her mother speak to him. Before the afternoon is over, Laurel will witness a shocking crime that challenges everything she knows about her family and especially her mother, Dorothy.
Now, fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to the family farm for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by questions she has not thought about for decades. From pre-WWII England through the Blitz, to the fifties and beyond, discover 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, the lengths people go to fulfill them, and the consequences they can have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers, and schemers told—in Morton’s signature style—against a backdrop of events that changed the world.
Here’s what I thought:
This is the second book I’ve read by Morton, and perhaps because I read The House at Riverton fairly recently, I noticed right away some similarities between the two books. Both are set in Britain during the period of the World Wars (although The House at Riverton focuses more on WWI and The Secret Keeper more on WWII). Both have as central characters an elderly woman who is approaching the end of her life and is ready to unburden herself about events from the past that are shrouded in mystery. These secrets are revealed to or discovered by a younger family member, so there is a theme of inter-generational connections that runs through both books.
I found The Secret Keeper to be a bit slow in the first half. It starts with a dramatic scene from the main character’s past, and the chapters that follow mainly alternate between the past and the present day. We learn the story of Dorothy and Jimmy, young lovers who face a rough start in their lives together due to the difficult circumstances caused by the war. We also meet Vivian, a London neighbor of Dorothy’s, who seems to live a charmed life with her writer husband.
I think part of why the first half of the book dragged for me was that I really didn’t like Dorothy and Jimmy, and so much of the story revolves around them in this section of the book. Dorothy is a narcissistic young woman who only seems to care about herself and what she can get from other people, and she takes Jimmy for granted. Jimmy, who would otherwise be an appealing character, comes across as spineless in the face of Dorothy’s selfish desires, and she continually manipulates him to get what she wants.
During the present-day chapters of the book, Dorothy’s eldest daughter Laurel is trying to uncover why her mother committed the act of violence that happens in the beginning of the book. To do this she has to go back to the past, exploring family records and archives in an attempt to figure out the mystery in her mother’s past. While I liked Laurel and her siblings, I didn’t find the present-day scenario as compelling as the glimpses into the past.
The story starts to pick up in the second half, in which we finally learn more about Vivian. I loved the scenes of the book that take place in Australia, and I felt more of a connection with Vivian than any other character in the book. Having said that, I guessed at what the big secret was going to be before the end of the book, and I think if things had turned out differently I would have enjoyed the book a lot less. I didn’t anticipate what would happen with Jimmy, and I liked the suspense of not knowing his character’s outcome until the last few pages. Everything comes together in the end in a way that reinforces Morton’s themes of family and inter-generational connections.
I’d definitely recommend this book if you like historical fiction, for its depiction of London during the time of the Blitz. I liked the plot twists in the second half of the book and found the ending to be very satisfying.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and Atria Books for providing me with a review copy of this book.
Buy from The Book Depository*