You know what’s a real kick in your bookworm pride? Knowing a speed reader. I always thought I was a relatively fast reader, managing a book a week, sometimes more than that. And the books I read average at about six hundred pages each. So meeting a speed reader and witnessing them read sixty pages in ten minutes? Not the best for one’s self-esteem. But we do what we can, don’t we?
The Secret Keeper took me about a week to read. Which I think is a fair amount of time. But I keep thinking about all of the books on my bookshelf that I haven’t read yet. Plus the ones I am yet to buy because they complete some of the series on my shelf. Plus the books that have yet to be lent to me. Plus the book that just landed at Dymocks that was supposed to arrive last month.
Ahh, the life of a bookworm.
Kate Morton, the author, went to my old alma mater, QUT! And actually did my degree. A fact I may have told my mother once or twice or a dozen times when she lent me the book. So I may have a slight bias toward The Secret Keeper. I feel that you guys should know this going in.
The Secret Keeper is an intriguing book, because it is written by an Australian and yet it is barely set in Australia. Why is this a big deal? Because Aussie authors always seem to write about Australia. But not Morton. And I loved that. Instead, this book was situated in London, with only part of a chapter set in rural Australia. It flits between the 1940s and present day London, and roams between a few different POVs. But the most important POVs are Laurel Nicolson, the daughter; Dorothy Nicolson née Smitham, the mother; and Jimmy Metcalfe, the man Dorothy fell in love with before the war happened. Before she met Laurel’s father.
At heart, this book is a mystery. A middle-aged Laurel yearns to uncover the truth about why her elderly mother stabbed a man in the chest in 1961 when she, Laurel, was a girl. The story unfolds with bits of the mystery coming from Laurel’s research and other bits from the events that unfolded in 1941 that led to the stabbing of the mysterious man. As we follow this story, The Secret Keeper morphs into a kind of romance. Seeing as Dorothy’s relationship with Jimmy is the cornerstone of the truth of what happened in 1961.
There was a period of a few chapters in this book where I almost declared defeat. But, in hindsight, this was simply awesome characterisation. There is a turning point in Dorothy’s character that makes her unlikeable. Detestable, in fact. She becomes like Pip from Great Expectations, unhappy with what she has and stomping all over the people who love her because they can’t get her the societal stature that she so craves. There is nothing worse than selfishness in a person, even a fictional person. And so, I almost put the book down. But before I did, I fell into an incredibly bad habit and flicked ahead toward the end of the book. And it was there that I read an exchange between two characters that made me change my mind and continue reading. All I can say is that there is a delicious twist at the end that I actually predicted, but having it confirmed just made it that more amazing.
There is also this wonderful subplot, a sub-subplot if you will, about personality disorders. As an aspiring clinical psychologist, this was incredibly interesting to read. In this subplot we see the development of narcissistic personality disorder as an actual thing in the psychological field. It intrigued me. See, there are so many established facts that we take for granted in modern society. I don’t know about you, but sometimes I forget that at some point someone had to research and experiment and labour to put together the theories and things that we all know and reference casually. Having a psychologist in the 1940s piecing together narcissistic personality disorder was simply a nice touch, and a beautiful way to ground the novel in its time period.
It’s hard to shrink such a rich story into just one genre, so I’ll give you a couple. The Secret Keeper is a historical romance mystery that uses the Nicolson family as a way to flit between generations. The romance is genuine. The history is accurate. The mystery is actually intriguing and handled beautifully. And that twist…that twist is amazing.