If you like your thought-provoking books with a dose of energetic plot, you'll want to read A Secret Kept. Set in France, both in Paris and Noirmoutier (see sidebar), the story starts in the middle of the action as we meet a man still in shock from a very recent car accident, which becomes the catalyst for him to reexamine his entire life.
As you would imagine from the title, de Rosnay's follow up to Sarah's Key (2007) is about secrets - some significant, some not. Her message appears to be that it is not so much the nature of the secret that causes problems in a relationship but the fact that there are secrets. Once you discover one surprising secret about someone you love, suddenly you wonder what else you don't know about them. And secrets discovered in adulthood call into question everything you believed to be true. It seems trite, but this is really a story about life and death. The life you are living, and the life you want to live. Whereas Sarah's Key had us examining historical secrets, A Secret Kept looks at our more personal secrets with equal intensity.
If I had read A Secret Kept in my early twenties, I think I would have enjoyed it as an entertaining diversion (there is plenty of exciting plot to keep most readers interested) but would not have found the richness that I did by reading it in my forties, with a few decades of experience behind me. I think I connected so strongly to this book because the main character, Antoine, is about my age and dealing with the kinds of things I deal with. The reader is not held at a distance watching him contemplate his deep thoughts, instead we are alongside him, experiencing his life as it unfolds. Antoine is trying to work out how to be friends with his ex-wife while sandwiched between two generations - his children are growing up and developing secrets of their own, while his father and grandmother are in failing health. The weekend trip was intended to be an escape for him and his sister, but the car accident forces him to actually look at his life, rather than simply float through it, which is, of course, the wakeup call he needs.
De Rosnay's writing is frank but never vulgar, though there is a bit of profanity. She puts you in the setting without over-doing the details. Not having been to France myself, I feel she strikes a good balance between providing enough detail to paint a scene without burdening the reader with too much trivia. I was thoroughly engrossed and finished the book in two days. There was never a false note, and never a dull moment.
This review was originally published in September 2010, and has been updated for the September 2011 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.
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