It is not often that I return to an author to find I love their succeeding books as much as their previous. I read Kate Morton’s slightly out of succession; second, first, third and then forth. While I adored the second and first books, sadly the third was a disappointment and I do not remember most of what happened. However, Morton is back on form with The Secret Keeper, her fourth novel.
1959 England. Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old, dreaming alone in her childhood tree house during a family celebration at their home, Green Acres Farm. She spies a stranger coming up the long road to the farm and then observes her mother, Dorothy, speaking to him. And then she witnesses a crime.
Fifty years later, Laurel is a successful and well-regarded actress, living in London. She returns to Green Acres for Dorothy’s ninetieth birthday and finds herself overwhelmed by memories and questions she has not thought about for decades. She decides to find out the truth about the events of that summer day and lay to rest her own feelings of guilt. One photograph, of her mother and a woman Laurel has never met, called Vivian, is her first clue.
The Secret Keeper explores longings and dreams, the lengths some people go to fulfill them, and the strange consequences they sometimes have. It is a story of lovers, friends, dreamers and schemers, play-acting and deception told against a backdrop of events that changed the world.Synopsis from GoodReads.
Set betwixt two generations, as is Morton’s style, The Secret Keeper is a travel through the lives of Dorothy, Jimmy and Vivien during The Blitz, and Laurel and her siblings in 2011. At sixteen Laurel saw her mother murder a man, this fractured her life, shook the foundations of what she thought she knew and pushed her further from the family home. Some fifty years later, as her mother Dorothy reaches the end of her life, Laurel tries to uncover the mystery of what happened all that time ago.
Morton’s characters are brilliant, Laurel the ageing actress, Dolly the fantasist, Jimmy the hero and Vivien the martyr. I am not ashamed to say I cried at The Secret Keeper’s conclusion. Jimmy is the loveliest man alive, you want he and Dolly to be so happy and it is hard to reconcile that with Dorothy being happy later in life with Stephen, Laurel’s father.
Dolly, as she is known in wartime London, is a fanciful fool; you find it difficult to reconcile her personality with adult Dorothy, the marvellous mother. She creates unrealistic relationships in her head, annoyed when real life actions interfere with her delusions. Her faux feud with Vivien is upsetting, as by the time we finally get introduced to Vivien she is not evil as Dolly’s narrative would have us think.
Morton impressed me not only with her characterisation, but also her wide breadth of female protagonists; it is wonderful to read a novel so centred around strong female women – who are not used to further the male protagonists storyline. I had no issue connecting to sixty-plus year old Laurel; older women can often be marginalised by the creative industry, so Morton giving us Laurel was refreshing. I long to meet Laurel, to discuss her acting career and to generally have a chat about everything she went through in life.
I wish I could write more about The Secret Keeper, but to discuss it further would be to ruin the twist. Morton has a fantastic ability to make you think one thing while telling you something completely different; I literally screamed at the discovery of The Secret Keeper’s twist, it blew me away. You can almost guess it, but it is surprising nonetheless. I was so impressed by it, to word it here would only ruin your experience.