Aussie Book Review: The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

Paperback

Uncorrected Proof Copy provided by publisher

Allen & Unwin, November 2012

 Synopsis- 1961: On a sweltering summer’s day, while her family picnics by the stream on their Suffolk farm, sixteen-year-old Laurel hides out in her childhood tree house dreaming of a boy called Billy, a move to London, and the bright future she can’t wait to seize. But before the idyllic afternoon is over, Laurel will have witnessed a shocking crime that changes everything.
2011: Now a much-loved actress, Laurel finds herself overwhelmed by shades of the past. Haunted by memories, and the mystery of what she saw that day, she returns to her family home and begins to piece together a secret history. A tale of three strangers from vastly different worlds – Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy – who are brought together by chance in wartime London and whose lives become fiercely and fatefully entwined.
Shifting between the 1930s, the 1960s and the present, The Secret Keeper is a spellbinding story of mysteries and secrets, theatre and thievery, murder and enduring love.

 Review- The Secret Keeper is a saga that sweeps through three time periods from the 1940’s to the 1960’s to modern day 2011.

At sixteen years old, Laurel is dreaming of being an actress and secret meetings with her boyfriend, only she sees a terrible event that changes her outlook on everything. It’s a secret she carries close to her heart throughout her life and it’s not until she is in her sixties and her mother is on her deathbed that she begins to question what really happened that day.

In her quest for answers, Laurel researches her mother’s background- her friends, a past lover and the wartime setting in which she existed.

The Secret Keeper is told from various viewpoints: Laurel, Dorothy (her mother), Vivian (Dorothy’s friend) and Jimmy (Dorothy’s first love). Set in the late thirties and early forties the lives of each of Dorothy, Vivian and Jimmy are unraveled.

At nearly 600 pages, this is quite a lengthy book and I spent a week reading it. The very first chapter had me engaged but it did take some time for me to become acquainted with each of the protagonists of the story. Although much of Laurel’s viewpoint is focused on finding out about her mother’s past, I did like the snippets of her character that were revealed. Jimmy was probably the most likeable character and I really had a soft spot for him, he loved Dorothy with all his heart and considering he wanted nothing more than a simple, happy life with a family of his own, there were so many hurdles thrown in his path I felt very sympathetic for him.

Dorothy wasn’t particularly likeable, though she was interesting. A self-centered teen who remained quite egocentric in early adulthood, Dorothy was quite consumed with material possessions and attaining a status in society. A working class boyfriend and a job as a servant/ companion didn’t quite fit with the fantasies of her preferred lifestyle. I’d have liked to see a little more growth in this character, but I suppose it made the twist at the end far more easier to swallow because I hadn’t felt particularly connected to her- despite her viewpoint expanding a majority of the novel.

Vivian was someone whom I also didn’t particularly like in the beginning, in fact I felt quite indifferent towards her and I think this was largely because I just didn’t know enough about her. She was as much of a mystery to the reader as she was to those in the story she crossed paths with. It wasn’t until well into the second half of the book that her story unravels and I found myself drifting towards her character and wanting to know more. The friendship she develops with Jimmy is one that challenged me morally, because I didn’t particularly like Dorothy but I also didn’t want an affair to ensue between her boyfriend and friend.

Even though it took me some time to really get into the story, by the second half I was really struggling to put it down. As I was away for a few days I had to put it down to spend time with my fiancé (!) but when I did I found myself thinking about the characters and wondering about what certain things could mean and what would happen next. The way the characters resonated with me is palpable to Morton’s craft in writing. The twist at the end about Dorothy and Vivian truly surprised me. It was an odd feeling, as I usually tend to pick up on the little hints throughout the story, which leaves me unsurprised by any attempts for the author to shock me. It left me with mixed feelings as there were so many ‘what ifs’ that were raised with this. Things could have worked out for two of the characters had they known what was revealed in the end. But I had to remind myself it wasn’t a historical romance novel, it was historical fiction and the ending fitted with the fluidity of the story.

The Secret Keeper is a captivating read that spans three time periods, tells the story of three women characterized by secrets, flaws and desires set amid the backdrop of wartime England and the present day. This was my first Kate Morton novel (though I do have 2 other titles sitting on my TBR shelf) but it won’t be my last!

Overall Rating

4.5/5

“Fantastic!”

The Secret Keeper can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers

About the author: Kate Morton grew up in the mountains of southeast Queensland, Australia. She has degrees in Dramatic Art and English Literature and is currently a doctoral candidate at the University of Queensland. Kate lives with her husband and two young sons in Brisbane.
Kate Morton’s books have been published in 31 countries. The House at Riverton was a Sunday Times #1 bestseller in the UK in 2007 and a New York Times bestseller in 2008. The Shifting Fog (now The House of Riverton) won General Fiction Book of the Year at the 2007 Australian Book Industry Awards. Was nominated for Most Popular Book at the British Book Awards in 2008. Her second book, The Forgotten Garden, was a #1 bestseller in Australia and a Sunday Times #1 bestseller in the UK in 2008.

This book was read as part of the AWW2012 challenge:

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