The inescapable past – “The Secret Keeper” by Kate Morton

January 23, 2013 at 8:52 pm 2 comments

“The Secret Keeper” by Kate Morton, Published in 2012

(As an aside: I would like to start with the question why did Morton title this book “The Secret Keeper”? It just makes it sound like this salacious, torrid, Danielle Steele novel with a large breasted woman in a torn corset on the cover.)

Morton has a formula. In her novels there is always an old woman in her last days suffering from guilt/sorrThe Secret Keeperow/grief over a secret that she has kept all of these years but then someone must uncover this secret to give the old woman forgiveness/peace/comfort.  For many other authors this type of repetition would become tedious BUT Morton’s writing and her amazing gift of story-telling makes her formula great almost every time (“Distant Hours” is the exception).

In 1961, when Laurel was 16 years old, she saw her mother kill a man. And though her mother (Dorothy) and the police have both told her it was in self-defense,  there is something about that day that has always bothered Laurel.  Forty years later, Dorothy is in the hospital facing death and Laurel and her siblings must return home to make decisions about her end of life care.   Returning to her childhood home, Laurel finds herself immersed in memories of her happy childhood:

“The landscape of one’s childhood was more vibrant than any other. It didn’t matter where it was or what it looked like, the sights and sounds imprinted differently from those encountered later. They became part of a person, inescapable.”

But as Laurel comes to terms with her mother’s inevitable death, she begins to realize that, though her mother made her childhood magical, she knows absolutely nothing about who Dorothy was before she had her children.  All she knows is that Dorothy left London during WWII. And there is always that lingering question: why would her mother have been so fast to kill that man on that summer day years before?

Morton then takes the reader back to the late 1930s/early 1940s and begins narrating Dorothy’s life.  Raised by a boring country family Dorothy longs to embrace a different life. As soon as she is old enough she rushes off to London to fulfill her dreams.  Dorothy finds herself in the middle of war-torn London working for an old, rich, and infirm woman.  Dorothy is vivacious but self-absorbed, narcissistic and  difficult to like. As she begins to see how the “other half” lives she starts to long for more than just a simple life by the sea that she had planned with her boyfriend Jimmy.  But time passes and it appears that Dorothy’s dreams of living an elegant life are just not possible. Her wealthy friend Vivien seems to have betrayed her and Dorothy decides she is going to have to make her fortune for herself. Of course, in true Morton style, Dorothy foolishly makes a poor choice that, while seemingly harmless enough, ends up destroying the lives of those around her.

The narrative bounces back and forth between what Laurel is discovering about her mother and the actual story of Dorothy.  Laurel digs deeper into her mother’s past and also revisits many of her childhood memories.  As Laurel finds out more about her mother her own memories take on a different hue and the meaning of certain events in Laurel’s life change.  And of course truth changes everything.

There is a secret in this book (hence the title) which I figured out pretty quickly. But even knowing where the book was headed it was still engaging.  Morton’s writing is lovely. It has a lilt to it.  And she has a way of writing about regret that makes her narrative beautifully tragic.  Her novels always make me cry, and this one was no exception.

Morton has written before about how the choices we make ultimately lead us down the path to who we become and how often those choices haunt us.  Revisiting that theme in “The Secret Keeper” makes it certainly worth the read.  Because, as they say, “if it isn’t broken…”

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Entry filed under: January 2013 reads. Tags: , , , , , .

The best laid plans – “What Alice Forgot” by Liane Moriarty The honor of calling someone “Sausage” – “Snobs” by Julian Fellowes

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Allison @ The Book Wheel  |  January 24, 2013 at 3:50 pm

    I’m a big Kate Morton fan, my favorite so far being The Forgotten Garden. I have this one, too, and can’t wait to read it!

    Reply
    • 2. Emily C  |  January 25, 2013 at 10:51 pm

      “The House at Riverton” has been my favorite but it also was the first one I read by Morton so maybe that is why. I hope you enjoy “The Secret Keeper”!

      Reply

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There is some great literature out there, but there is a lot of bad literature as well. We shouldn't all have to read it. These are my recommendations and thoughts about the books I read.

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