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.
I love Kate Morton’s books so I was really pleased to see she had a new novel out. I have just finished reading it and now I’m in that place where you are satisfied but a little bereft that it’s all over.
This story, like her others, focuses on families, histories and hidden secrets. At the centre of the story is Laurel, now in her sixties and concerned about her dying mother. Her concern is not just at the illness Dorothy has and the thought of losing her, but also about the lack of resolution Laurel has for an incident she witnessed her mother commit when Laurel was just a teenager. Laurel can’t accept that she will never get the answers to her questions and embarks on a journey to discover the truth behind what happened.
The story is unfolded by both following Laurel on her quest and by flashbacks to the past, told through Dorothy’s eyes and subsequently that of some of the other main characters. I enjoy this method of story telling, keeping suspense going as you hop from one time to another alongside collecting snippets of information to gradually piece together the complete picture.
I also liked the way that all the characters are fully three dimensional people with flaws and positive attributes. It was fascinating to get to know them, as with real people, layer by layer and discover what is really underneath. In this light I was interested all the way through in Dorothy’s story as she seemed so different in the wartime (and before) to how Laurel remembers her as a mother. It was interesting to see if this was Laurel’s perception of her mother or if something had really happened to change Dorothy so much.
I don’t want to give away too much of the story, suffice to say I was gripped and couldn’t put it down. Kate’s writing is as gripping and atmospheric as ever and the images she creates of the wartime life, of Australia shimmering in heat, of misunderstandings between friends, of life seen through the eyes of both children and adults are as evocative as ever.
Verdict: I will be recommending this to everyone I talk about books with that’s for sure.
Reviewed by Helen