This is a review for The Australian Women Writers Challenge which you can read more about HERE. In the coming year I plan to review a host of female Australian writers, so watch this space. I always buy books from Australian writers in the popular fiction genre and they tend to form a tower in my room. It’s difficult to find time to read them with all the research reading required for my own books, not to mention my Magic Hat Bookclub, so The Australian Women Writers Challenge is an opportunity for me to lessen that tower of books.
For my first review I went with Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper.
First a disclaimer:
I’ve known Kate Morton as a writing colleague for years and we share the same agent. Along with many other writers and readers we also share a love of parallel timeline stories, mysteries, Enid Blyton, Barbara Vine and Daphne du Maurier. And so virtually any story Kate creates is going to be my cup of tea.
I love the cover design. It’s a gorgeous image and I had to look twice to check it wasn’t Kate herself.
The production team did a spectacular job with the end papers, which are reminiscent of a Persephone book (another thing I share with Kate is a love of Persephone books). And The Secret Keeper even had a brief Peter Pan mention.
I also love the title which lets you know exactly what this book is about. It also fits in nicely with Kate’s previous titles in its rhythm.
This is a big book. I had to cull several books to fit it on my shelf but I was prepared to do so because the cover design is so lovely.
I finished reading this book on a rainy Sunday night which of course is the perfect weather for a story such as this.
It’s always strange to read an author you know as you have to left go of your relationship to slip into the story, but as usual Kate lured me swiftly in to her web of parallel worlds of 1940s Blitz London, the smaller Australian thread in Tambourine Mountain and the present day/1960s and 2011 strands.
The book opens with a cracking scene as sixteen-year-old Laurel attempts to uncover the mystery behind why her mother stabbed a stranger to death as she looked on from her tree house. You always get a very strong visual sense when reading Kate’s books, which no doubt her drama training helped her develop.
I did spot the twist very early on, which is not Kate’s fault. It was more to do with so many people revealing online there was a twist and so I was on the hunt for it. If I’m going to be picky (and scratching hard for something here), the siblings never felt as developed as the leading characters. I kept getting confused with the siblings who weren’t in it a lot. And the characters seemed a bit too Downton Abbey ‘nice’, but that is also the broad appeal of Kate’s work as well.
In this book Kate seems to be having fun with us. The words play games and bounce along at times.
Kate’s skill is bringing history to life in a ‘can’t put the book down’ way. You catch glimpses of what it was like to live through 1940s Blitz London. I have been reading These Wonderful Rumours! A Young Schoolteacher’s Wartime Diaries 1939-1945 by May Smith.
This also gives you an insight into exactly what it was like for people living when normal life was ‘sort of as usual’ except bombs were going off down the road. One thing I really got from These Wonderful Rumours! was the effects of disrupted sleep from being summoned to air raid shelters in the middle of the night. And do you go coat shopping or to the cinema if they are sounding the raids? I can’t imagine living under the stress of this for years. I would highly recommend his book for the chirpy school teacher’s diaries of her war years.
But back to Kate and The Secret Keeper. I admire Kate’s elegant use of words and phrases which create such evocative pictures in your mind, such as on page 185 when the very-likeable Jimmy tries on his father’s suit. He reflects that his father ‘had always seemed such a giant but now it was possible he had merely been a man.’ Such a poignant world revealed in such few words.
And the vivid description on page 188 where Jimmy’s photographs reveal world of ‘private places suddenly made public’ of people’s homes who have been bombed.
The team leader, Mrs Waddingham, is described in Chapter 14 as having lips as tight as a ‘dachshund’s arse’. A glorious image which made me laugh out loud.
And so I finished the Secret Keeper as the rain pelted down outside with a satisfied sigh. I stroked that lovely book cover tenderly and slowly adjusted myself back to my ‘real world’ of Sydney 2013, realising I had to get ready for the school run but reluctant to bid farewell to her characters just yet.
And that is exactly how a great book and story should make you feel. Like many people around the world I am eagerly anticipating Kate’s next book.
On page 246, one of Jimmy’s photographs is of a little girl of 3 or 4 wearing an enormous pair of borrowed bloomers, an adult cardigan and tap shoes. She taps a little dance as she waits for the family who were never going to arrive to take her home. Jimmy’s images are said ‘to record individual tragedies such as a little girl losing her entire family which would otherwise be swept as easily as dust beneath history’s carpet.’
Kate’s The Secret Keeper also reminds us through a ‘can’t put it down’ good story of the human side of the Blitz. I was reminded of The Secret Keeper when I saw this recent quote on Good Reads.
Books have a unique way of stopping time in a particular moment and saying: Let’s not forget this. Dave Eggers
I gave The Secret Keeper four stars out of 5.