“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
, 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. France
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.
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
, 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 Paris France – this is simply the real deal, the real of a certain milieu. France
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.