I just finished reading Kate Morton’s “the Secret Keeper.” It’s long and fat and I read it in 3 days so I could go to bookclub and not have the ending spoiled.
This is the second Kate Morton book I’ve read (the Forgotten Garden was the first) and it did not disappoint. In fact, it was fantastic. One of the things I love about Morton’s writing is that she places you so firmly in the setting, which is important because the two books I’ve read jump around quite a bit both in time and place.
“The Secret Keeper,” set in England, is about a daughter, her mother, a shared traumatic experience and the search for a long held secret. Laurel returns home in 2011 to Greenacre, together with her siblings, to be with her mother in her final days. Being home brings back all sorts of memories for Laurel and soon she has more questions than answers. That starts her on a massive search for answers that takes us back in time to 1941 and 1961 (or thereabouts).
The trip through time is historically interesting and Morton does a wonderful job of staying true to history and making it come alive so much that you feel you are there. When she whisks you off to another time and place, you are loath to leave where you came from until she wraps you up in the new setting. But it’s not abrupt. It’s skillfully and gently done. The skill of writing it takes to do that is beyond me. It’s amazing.
The characters are well drawn, the setting is tangible, the prose is inspiring. My only problem was that I wanted the answers as much as Laurel and a few times I just wanted less fluff and more answers. But that’s her style and it sure is beautiful writing. One of my favorite parts of this novel is that the characters, the main protagonists, the hero/heroines have faults. So though you love them, you also want to shake them by the shoulder and beg them to be stronger or more patient or more kind.
My favorite character was Jimmy, the love interest in 1941. So loyal and principled. He was a photographer and took photos of the fall-out from the London Blitz. About one of the pictures of a newly orphaned, young girl, the book reads: “Small individual tragedies like this little girl’s were nothing to the larger scale of the war; she and her tap shoes could be swept as easily as dust beneath history’s carpet. That photograph was real, though; it captured its moment and preserved it for the future like an insect in amber. It reminded Jimmy why what he did, recording the truth of the war, was important.”
One of the themes of the novel is that we often don’t know the story, the history, of the people we love, our families and in particular to this book, our mothers. Laurel didn’t know her mother’s past. Dolly didn’t know the past of the woman who employed her. The book gives us insight into the past of all the main characters and guess what? The past becomes super important and fascinating.
So it got me thinking about my mom and sure, I know a few stories here and there but what about the meat? Do I know enough? Do my kids know enough? After reading this book, I am so motivated to know my own mother’s past and learn from her personal history, because it’s important.
I must confess, my admiration for this book was greatly increased when Morton referenced the Tardis from Doctor Who. How can you go wrong with a book that sweeps generations and mentions the Tardis? So read “The Secret Keeper”! Then go read “The Forgotten Garden.” You will be transported to amazing times and places and you won’t regret it.