November 16, 2016

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton

3 stars: I liked it, but it all unwound a bit slowly for me.

So this is the story of a 16-year-old girl named Laurel who has had an idyllic childhood, until one sunny day: a stranger walks up to their house, exchanges a few words with her mother, then is fatally stabbed by her mother. I know. Heavy stuff.

Fast forward 50 or 60 years. Laurel's mom, Dorothy, is nearing the end of her life. In some of her mental confusion, she has been asking for someone named Jimmy, and seems distressed about people or events that none of her children have any reference to. Laurel is finally ready to get to the bottom of the traumatic event she witnessed so long ago and try to reconcile the mother she's always known and loved with a woman who could do that.

Throughout the book, the narrative switches from current day Laurel to various episodes in the past. Most of the historical sections are based in WWII London. I thought the flashbacks were well done. I didn't have any problems keeping up with what was going on or when it was--primarily because once the characters got to London, that's pretty much where they stayed for those sections.

* * * * *
This is the second book by Kate Morton that I've read. It was very similar in style to the first, The Forgotten Garden, including a big twist at the end, but I liked this one better. I actually read it for Book Club this month--otherwise I doubt I would have picked it up. (I just realized that's exactly what I said in my review for her other one! Ha!)

I think my children's librarian bias shows most with books like this. I start to get a little whiny inside my head--are we there yet? Why does it have to be so LONG? C'mon woman, summarize! Anyway...

Taking it for what it was, there were many things I enjoyed. I have read many WWII books, but not very many describing the London Blitz, or what it would have been like to live through that. The history was fascinating to me. Particularly the way people lived their lives as normally as possible in a completely abnormal situation.

The premise was a natural hook, and I bit. The reason I stuck with it through ALL those pages was to figure out what really happened between Dorothy, Vivien, and Jimmy, and how that all factored in to the Awful Event. Morton is a master at giving all kinds of hints and clues that lead you to believe one thing, but mean something completely different after you get to the twist. So yes, that part was enjoyable.

Not very many at Book Club had actually read it, so our discussion as not as in depth as I had hoped it would be. However, this is a great one for discussing. Many different angles you could take on it. We discussed probably the most obvious angle--when is it okay to keep secrets from your family? Is it ever? Was Dorothy justified in what she did and keeping the secrets of her past?

Our group was pretty emphatic that secrets should not be kept between close family members. I don't know, though. I've seen it go both ways. I know someone who experienced abuse as a child, who finally as a happily married mother of 4 was coming to terms with it. Her husband hadn't known about it before their marriage and he was shell-shocked. They are now divorced. Should she have kept it a secret from him? 

On the other hand, someone else that I knew in college was engaged to be married, and she would often come into our apartment crowing about some thing she had purchased (that we were not to tell her fiancĂ© about), or some interaction with her future mother-in-law (ditto.) I mean, that's trouble, right there. They had dated for 2 years, so we all fervently hoped he knew what he was getting into. I didn't know either of them well enough to feel like it was my place to interfere, but maybe I should have.

I think secrets put a barrier in relationships--I mean, that's kind of the point of them, isn't it? "You may not cross beyond this point." I also believe that keeping a secret can delay healing or needed help. It can be deceitful, if you're trying to use it to cover up wrongdoing or sin. If it was something hard you experienced in the past, though, maybe it's just a sign that you're not ready to move on from that yet. In a relationship does everything need to be out there for the other person to see? I don't know.

Since Book Club didn't give me quite the discussion I wanted, let's chat here! What do you think? Is keeping a secret always dishonest on some level? What did you think of this book?

Content: I'm trying to remember...other than the stabbing, there were a handful of intimate scenes, but they were not graphically described at all. For adults.

(Finished reading Oct. 29)


  1. This is a very interesting discussion (and much deeper than I gave the book credit for being when I read it). In my own relationship and marriage, I obviously don't believe in secrets. I don't have secrets I keep from my husband (and I'm fairly sure he doesn't have any he's keeping from me, although I guess the point is I can't know that). However, I don't have any issues with abuse or mental illness or other things that might really affect a relationship. I do think if I were in a relationship with someone who had these issues in there past, I'd like them to be open about it from fairly early on. I have a hard time thinking of a situation where honesty isn't the best policy for the health of the relationship. Secrecy and/or deceit just seem so unhealthy. But I guess it depends on the situation, so I don't know.

    1. I agree that having everything on the table to begin with is ideal and gives the best chance for success. When that doesn't happen, for whatever reason, I guess part of how your relationship survives depends on you each deal with the revelation of secrets...? Like I mentioned, though, I don't think healing can happen as long as something is being kept secret.