Tuesday, 3 May 2011

A Secret Kept

 
“He remembered waiting for the tide. Waiting for hours for the Gois causeway to appear beneath the slowly receding waves. And there it was at last, cobbles glistening with seawater, a four-kilometre amphibian road dotted with high rescue poles with little platforms for unfortunate drivers and pedestrians stranded by the upcoming flood.”
                                                          From A Secret Kept

The Gois causeway to the Ile de Noirmoutier, off the west coast of France, is a powerful symbol in Tatiana de Rosnay’s compelling new novel A Secret Kept. It is the old link to the island, and also a family’s link to the past – a past that, like the causeway which is daily submerged, cuts them off and must be approached with caution.

Antoine Rey is a successful but troubled architect, from the buttoned-up higher echelons of Parisian society. His much-loved wife has left him for another man, and his teenage children are wrapped up in their own worlds. In an attempt to recapture happier times, Antoine takes his younger sister Mélanie to Noirmoutier as a birthday surprise. Their childhood summers were spent on the island, though neither has been back for decades.

At the heart of the story is their mother Clarisse, who died when Antoine and Mélanie were young children. Clarisse, like Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, haunts this story, remembered but never appearing in the book, a constant but unknown and unsettling figure. When, surrounded by the beauty of the island, Melanie experiences a disturbing resurgence of a long-ago memory, it leads to near-disaster, and in the following days the life of everyone concerned begins to unravel.

As old memories surface and new facts are discovered in the present day, Clarisse becomes as mysterious to her children as she is to the reader. For this is a novel about communication: a family’s inability to communicate through the generations, and the legacy that leaves.
UK Edition

It’s a beguiling and lyrical book, with the perfect pace of a thriller, though its strength doesn’t lie so much in the unveiling of the secret that has been locked away, but in the investigation of the mysteries of human relations and families. All the relationships are tested, as each character proves hard to read by another, even the brother and sister, who have always been close. The mid-life crisis of Antoine Rey is realistic, honest and painful as he confronts the past and dares to look beneath the surface for the first time.

What I loved most about reading this novel, though, was to do with language. The author is a French citizen, who lives in Paris, but is half-English with Russian blood; until this one and her previous, hugely successful, novel Sarah’s Key, she wrote in French. But even now that she has now changed to English, she retains a French sensibility and writes in many ways as a French writer would. It’s a subtlety I find fascinating. This is no meticulously researched facsimile of French people at home in France – this is simply the real deal, the real France of a certain milieu.

It feels at times like a foreign novel, from the phrasing, to the attitudes of the characters, to its very structure and themes. Indeed, de Rosnay is currently the third bestselling author throughout Europe, after Dan Brown and Stieg Larsson. If you want authentic insight into how the French think and behave, this is the novel for you – with not a word or shade of meaning lost in translation.

21 comments:

Samantha Sotto-Yambao said...

Sounds likes a fascinating book! Thanks for sharing :)

Stephanie M. Hasty said...

this sounds amazing!

Richard said...

Merci, Deborah pour le résumé passionant de ce nouveau roman. Le passage du Gois en a suscité de nombreux. Il est mystérieux à lui seul, avec ces refuges au-dessus des poteaux. On pourrait facilement bâtir un nouveau roman avec des voitures prises par la marée qui monte. Les passagers, un homme et une femme, se retrouvent seuls, sur un refuge... Et l'histoire commence...

Book Dilettante said...

A book I must read after your review!

Girl Parker said...

Wow! Thank you for such a beautiful write-up, Deborah. This is now on my Definitely Must Read list. I also love the photos from Provence... ah. I'm a big Peter Mayle fan, so it almost feels like I recognize your home, though I've never been there. Alas...

brenda said...

I have been debating reading the book. I hadn't committed it to my list, but echoing the other commenters, it's on my list now. Wonderful write up. Thanks kindly,

Brenda

James Kiester said...

Sounds interesting.

MuMuGB said...

It sounds like this novel summarises why I have left France and don't intend to come back...I will read it. Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer said...

Thanks for sharing....I have read and loved Sarah's Key. I will add this to my must read list.

Alexis @ Reflections of a Bookaholic said...

I have this book on my wishlist. It sounds fantastic. Thanks for sharing.

Emily said...

Sure sounds like my kind of book. Perfect for a beach read. Thanks for sharing..........Talking about you on my blog!

~Emily
The French Hutch

Linda Carswell said...

I bought and read both books when we were last in Paris....both are fabulous books!!!

*a 'must' read*

litlove said...

I am very intrigued by this - and in awe of writers who can crossover into other languages. I'll definitely look out for it.

✿ ♥ France ✿ ✿ said...

COUCOU un livre que je ne connais pas alors merci à toi. C'est superbe
Je ferme l'ordi alors bonne soirée

Deborah Swift said...

What a lovely review. It's on my list!

Leovi said...

Looks interesting after reading your review. Greetings.

BookQuoter said...

I saw this and almost bought it. I should have!

mel u said...

This does sound like a very good book-I liked your description of it as seeming like a foreign book in English!

Stacey Donaldson said...

Hi Deborah! You won the first prize in the giveaway on my blog, but you didn't leave your email address. Can you email me at:

writetomakealiving(at)gmail(dot)com

I can send you the prize via email.

Thanks so much for participating!

Mariann Lennert said...

Hi!
It is an interesting blog you have.
I look forward to follow
Regards
”Photo Haiku” & ”Camera Eye”

LESAPEA MUSINGS said...

Deborah , I am happy to say your interview is now live on my blog. Thank you so much for consenting, I do look forward to reading your new novel and this book as well after you wonderful review.

Lisa xx

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