First Line: Rural England, a farmhouse in the middle of nowhere, a summer's day at the start of the nineteen sixties.
Of course most teenage girls would think any farmhouse in the country is the middle of nowhere, and sixteen-year-old Laurel Nicolson is no exception. Playing hooky from a sibling's birthday party, she's daydreaming of her future up in the tree house. A little later she sees a strange man walking up the road to the house where he speaks to Laurel's mother.
Fifty years later, Laurel is an award-winning actress who's gathered with her sisters at the family farm to celebrate their mother's ninetieth birthday. Their mother has always been beautiful, vivacious, loving, almost perfect in her children's eyes, but her health is fading quickly. Laurel realizes that she's had questions about that long ago day when she saw the stranger walking up the road-- and she's running out of time to get the answers she wants because the information Laurel needs can only be found in her mother's past.
Dorothy Nicolson's memory seems as fragile as her health, but even on her good days, she's unwilling to part with any information. Laurel must dig for clues, check records, and talk to Dorothy's contemporaries. Reliving her mother's life as a paid companion in London during the Blitz, Laurel slowly begins to put the pieces together and discovers the stunning truth.
I have read and enjoyed all of Kate Morton's books; each one is better than the last. In her latest, there are many secret keepers-- it seems as though each character has something to hide. The narrative moves between present-day England where Laurel searches into her mother's past, and London during the 1940s where as a young girl her mother tries to survive despite endless shortages and nightly bombing raids. Laurel soon finds that her mother's story is entwined with those of two others: rich, beautiful Vivien married to a successful novelist, and handsome war photographer Jimmy.
Morton is masterful at revealing facts in increments-- clues a tiny nugget at a time. While the reader may get the impression that the characters' feelings, histories and motivations are becoming clearer with each chapter, are they? Really? Or is the reader merely seeing what Morton wishes them to see? Morton's talent is that she does both at the same time.
One thing that Morton does wish the reader to see is that each decision made by Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy has its consequences, and that each decision may not have been the right one. As each character comes under closer scrutiny, the reader's loyalties may shift from one to the other until the very end where all is revealed.
Did I place any of the puzzle pieces in the proper positions? A few, but not many. I've learned in reading Kate Morton's books that it's best to pretend I'm going whitewater rafting. There are quiet pools, strong currents, electrifying rapids, and a sense of near euphoria by story's end. Do what I did: sit back and enjoy a wonderful ride filled with vivid, memorable characters.
On an English farm in 1961 when Laurel is a teenager, and she witnesses a violent crime involving her mother Dorothy. The story jumps ahead to 2011, as Laurel and her siblings are gathering for Dorothy's 90th birthday.
The incident 50 years earlier has always haunted Laurel, and she knows with her mother's failing health, time is short to find out why it happened. From there, the story takes readers back and forth between 1941 London during the Blitz when Dorothy and her beau Jimmy meet Vivian, and 2011 as Laurel searches for clues about her mother's past.
Not only was this book a gripping mystery, it was also compelling historical fiction, painting a vivid picture of life in WWII London as bombs were dropped on the city.
Mmmmm, what can one really say about Kate Morton??? She is a gifted writer that will leave you wanting to know her characters personally: as a friend, neighbor or part of the story line somehow. I have all of her books and all are very different in nature, however, The Secret Keeper is by far her greatest achievement. I read this some 475 page book in 2 days. Preordered in May and just recieved my copy on the 18th of Oct. Couldn't put it down once I started, as is the case with all her books, but this one had been thought about since the preorder. I was so caught off guard with the ending. I did not see that coming. Kate Morton's books are ones that I buy as soon as possible, she is one of the few writers that I purchase right away. You will love this book just don't wait too long to read it. My copy sits in my personal library along with her sisters (and where there were 3 are now 4)...
I thought the book was too long and dragged, therefore I found myself skimming a lot. I kept reading it though because of the interesting characters. I'm glad I stuck with it because of the amazing ending!
Review first published on my blog: http://memoriesfrombooks.blogspot.com/2012/11/the-secret-keeper.html
The Secret Keeper is the story of Dorothy or Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy. Laurel is Dorothy's daughter. As a teenager, she witnesses a tragic incident that influences her greatly as she grows up. As an adult and as her mother nears death, Laurel delves into that secret and her mother's past. What emerges is the mystery of Dorothy's life.
The book alternates between present day and the war and Blitz in London when Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy are all young. Through the limited clues that Laurel discovers and the story of the past as it is told, we learn of the relationship between these three people and how that eventually leads to the tragedy that Laurel witnesses.
Kate Morton is a masterful storyteller. I have loved all the book the books I have read by her. This one is no different. The book completely draws you into the past and lives of Dolly, Vivien, and Jimmy. Even though the book goes back and forth between that past and Laurel's search, the story remains immersed in the past. The interludes to the present allow the reader to catch their breath before delving back in.
Interestingly, about half way through the book, I guessed where it was going and what the secret truly was. However, it did not matter and did not detract from the book. I kept reading because I wanted to see how the story was going to get there.
A beautifully told story even though the secret ends up not being that surprising. I can't wait to see what Kate Morton writes next.
I've heard a lot of good things about Kate Morton's books so when I was putting together my reading list for this year I was excited to include The Secret Keeper. I did not regret my choice when I finished reading the book, particularly because Morton is so very good at bringing her characters to life.
Everybody we meet in the course of the novel is flawed or broken in some way: Laurel is wed to her work and a secret that's older than she is, Dorothy's desire for something more and better rules her life, Vivien is a prisoner of her past, Jimmy sacrifices his beliefs for the sake of love... There is a story there for each of these characters and through them Morton weaves a tale of love, family, growing up, hard choices and decisions with far-reaching consequences.
It's fortunate that the characters are strong because the biggest mystery in the book wasn't all that mysterious for me. I guessed what would be the shocker about half way through and kept reading mainly to see whether I was right and to watch the characters get to the end of the story. Morton worked very hard on making the shocker plausible and on keeping the reader in the dark throughout the book, and yet it wasn't seamless (Gillian Flynn managed to keep me guessing much better in Gone Girl). There were key character traits that just didn't work with the ending, and remembering how highlighted they were made the dissonance only more obvious for me.
Despite this shortcoming reading The Secret Keeper was particularly enjoyable because of the writing. The book is full of lines that I wanted to write down and commit to memory, but for the fear of breaking the spell I didn't, and now that the book is back at the library I wish I had. Fortunately there is the Internet, so here are a couple of quotes that I liked so much I went back to reread them once I was done with the chapters where they appear:
"... people who'd led dull and blameless lives did not give thanks for second chances."
and this paragraph I thought was just beautifully written, with a sprinkling of foreshadowing and a generous doze of significance:
"And as the train whistled its imminent departure, a small girl wearing neat plaits and someone else's shoes climbed its iron stairs. Smoke filled the platform, people waved and hollered, a stray dog ran barking through the crowds. Nobody noticed as the little girl stepped over the shadowed threshold; not even Aunt Ada, who some might've expected to be sheperherding her orphaned niece towards her uncertain future. And so, when the essence of light and life that had been Vivien Longmeyer contracted itself for safekeeping and disappeared deep inside her, the world kept moving and nobody saw it happen."
I did enjoy this book and if you are a fan of lyrical prose and a character-driven story I think you will as well. For my part, I'll be keeping an eye on Morton's new books. She's liable to produce another beautiful novel (hopefully one with a more graceful surprise of an ending).