It always happens to me that, when I see a book reviewed in every blog and every newspaper and I find it in every shop window, I need the book and I buy it, but later I feel lazy when it’s time to read it; it’s like knowing exactly what is going to happen in the story because you have read a lot of reviews, positive ones, in general. That’s what happened to me with The forgotten garden, a book that I just finished a few weeks ago but, after reading it, I realized why everybody said it was great: I loved it.
So in my new English blog adventure, the same has happened to me with Kate Morton’s latest novel: I’ve been reading a lot of good reviews about The secret keeper and I’ve thought “life is too short, don’t keep the good things waiting for years”, and I began to read it. I was a little afraid of not understanding everything, but I just needed dictionary help in a few passages, and I can say I enjoyed the read.
Everything starts in the 1961, when Laurel is a teenager who dreams of going away from her parents’ house and starting a new life as an actress. She is thinking about that in her tree-house when a strange man goes to the front door and, after an exchange of words between he and her mother, Dorothy, she stabs the man with a cake knife. Laurel will never know who that man was, but she remembers he knew her mother’s name.
Now, in the year 2011, Dorothy has Alzheimer’s and the siblings go together to take care of her mother. Laurel has been apart from her family: she is a famous actress in her sixties and she hasn’t had so much time for get-togethers. She and her sisters find some of the memories kept in the old house by Dorothy, and start to think about how little her mother has talked to them about her past. Laurel starts to investigate a little about her mother, and the first question she asks herself is who was that man her mother killed that far back?
During the London Blintz, a young Dorothy felt like years later Laurel will feel about her family: Dolly wanted to escape from the dull life her parents had planned for her, and she decided to travel to London and look for a job there. She got one as a lady of company of an old rich woman in a big house, with all the facilities at that time: there were nothing that money couldn’t buy and, even during the war rationing, Dolly and her employer had fruit and all kind of sweets. In a few weeks Dolly and her neighbor, Vivien, became friends. Vivien was a high society young woman, charming and beautiful, whose husband was a well-known writer who had written a novel about the way he felt in love with Vivien. Dolly thought this was the most wonderful demonstration of love, and she dreamt about having such a good luck as Vivien had had. In any case, Dolly’s dreams were out of reach: her boyfriend, Jimmy, wasn’t a rich man. He worked as war photographer for a newspaper and tried to support her father, an old man who suffered dementia and couldn’t remember that his wife left him when Jimmy was a child, so he kept on waiting for her every evening next to the window. But Jimmy loved Dolly and he worked very hard to get money to marry her and buy her a beautiful cottage to live together.
Laurel begins to find out all about those people who were her mother’s friends and she can’t imagine the reasons why Dorothy has never talked about this part of her life.
Nothing is what it seems and the whole history story doesn’t have sense until the end of the book, when Kate Morton shows you all the information and all the pieces fit together. Perhaps the first part of the book is a little slow; you know there will be a murder, but all you are reading has, apparently, no relation with that event. The reader always has the idea that Dolly is a murderer and you find very difficult to forgive her because, after all, she killed that man and, can you have a good reason to kill?
For me, this novel was even better than The forgotten garden. In this case, we have only two times: today, when Laurel investigates her mother’s past little by little, mixing the information she gets by interviewing people and searching in the libraries with her own memories; and the London Blitz, when we know all about Dorothy, Vivien and Jimmy’s life. The story is divided into four parts: Laurel, Dolly, Vivien, and again Dorothy, but not all the chapters refer to one character, but you read a few chapters (two or three) about Laurel and then a few ones about another character. And even though Jimmy doesn’t have his own part, he is also very important in the whole story.
Precisely one thing that I loved in the novel was the love story between Jimmy and Dorothy, something that I missed in the previous book by the author, and that was what made me cry a little at the end (well, in fact I cried a lot). It’s impossible not to fall in love with these characters and, in fact, this year Kate Morton will be included in my list of favorite authors. I love her family sagas.
My Spanish review here