I really enjoyed this very interesting story about a French family and the unraveling of the "secret" that was at the heart of the mystery in this novel. Although set in modern day France, the narrative has a timeless quality about it as a forty-ish, newly divorced man, Antoine Rey, starts investigating the circumstances surrounding the death of his mother, Clarisse, after his sister Melanie is injured in an automobile accident after suddenly remembering something dramatically suspicious about their mother while the two of them are off on holiday.
While his sister is hospitalized and during her recovery from her injuries, Antoine becomes compelled to find out more about his mother and who she was and how she died since both of her children feel as if they never really knew her and the subject has never been talked about within the family. In the course of his inquiries, he discovers and faces the truth about a mother he loved deeply but lost far too soon.
Antoine is a very complex man who is simultaneously dealing with his love and longing for his ex-wife and their three children-- two of whom are surly and distant teenagers -- and with the sudden urge to finally know more about his mother. He suffers loneliness and self doubt, bored with his career as architect, and morose about his lack of close relationships with his children and his father's family. I found him an interesting character with a lot of depth and sentimentality that led to many moments of self examination and introspection. The other supportive characters were not so well drawn, but did provide the means for Antoine to interact with and to push the narrative along.
I read the novel in one sitting. I don't think the story is so much about the revelation of the secret or even the nature of it, but more about the process of discovery and about the importance of exploring the bonds of family relationships and about knowing each other. Do children really ever know their parents -- and should they know everything? It is human nature to question and to want answers to the age-old question -- "why"...
With her first novel, SARAH'S KEY, Tatiana de Rosnay hit upon a winning formula: link a contemporary story set in modern Paris to events that took place a generation or more earlier. Long-buried secrets can work well as a plot device. But the secrets in that earlier book were no small matter; they concerned nothing less than the fate of children in the French Holocaust, and their story was told with a simple directness that quite overshadowed the modern romance paired with it. In A SECRET KEPT, however, the modern romance is virtually the entire story; it is fuller and more detailed than the relevant sections of the earlier book, but is still relatively trivial. And the buried secret, whose disclosure is postponed by every means possible, turns out not to be much of a secret at all, and such tension as there was just dribbles away. This time around, the formula fails.
Antoine Rey is a fortyish Parisian architect dealing mainly in office reconstructions. He is bored with his job and has let his life fall apart since his wife Astrid has left him for a younger man. But he cares enough for his sister Mélanie to take her for her fortieth birthday to Noirmoutier Island, off the Atlantic coast southwest of Nantes, where they used to holiday as children. The visit awakens memories of their mother, Clarisse, one of which so upsets Mélanie that she crashes the car before she can tell it. The remainder of the book is the much-delayed search for that memory and the understanding of its implications. But it is at least equally about Antoine's struggles with his own life, his problems with his teenage children, his difficult relationship with his domineering father, and his self-pity over the loss of Astrid. Parts of this do ring quite true, actually, but when a most improbable romantic partner suddenly drops into Antoine's lap, I lost most of my credulity.
But still kept reading. The writing prattles along serviceably enough, though marred by passages in which the author just tries too hard: "I think of her caffeine-stained teeth, her furry upper lip, her patchouli perfume, her Mozartean Queen of the Night screeches, and my disgust, impatience, and annoyance bubble up with the efficient precision of a pressure cooker." A review on the back cover suggests that the book should be read in one sitting. It almost needs to be, for you read on in the hope that de Rosnay will ultimately come up with something significant enough to make this excursion worthwhile. She doesn't.
I found the free preview browsing the Kindle Store, and loved the cover. The synopsis seemed intriguing and the author's background promised a good read. Of the several preview chapters, the first chapter contained enough to move the story along and compell me to read on. But after figuring out a couple situations that were hinted at, I grew tired of the brother progtagonist's internal monologue and the constant reference to the tide and Gois Pass. I was expecting more given the book is a bestseller already in Europe. Perhaps I would enjoy her other book, Sarah's Key, as some other reviewers mentioned under the complete print edition, but this one was just OK for me.
on September 5, 2010
I am always intrigued by the stories about families, particularly when the same experience holds such different meaning for the individuals involved. While the book started off with potential, it quickly became a tiring and tiresome struggle to read. The lives of the Rey family, historically and in the present, are heavy with repression, judgment, disappointment, and the burden of meeting the expectations of others. Translated from the French (possibly part of the problem?), De Rosnay's writing comes across as a MFA assignment that asked the student to make maximal use of metaphor, epiphany, conflict and other literary techniques to create a reading experience that is congruent with the inner turmoil of the characters. With the exception of the long dead Clarisse, none of these sad souls ever came alive or came together into a believable whole. While that may have been the author's intent and from an artistic perspective, this may be an amazingly successful novel, it did not grab me and would never be a book that I would recommend to anyone else.
on April 26, 2012
Through sheer effort, I managed to finish this book. I was determined to learn, gain, or enjoy something by the end. I didn't. Death, depression, and dysfunctional people are the ongoing themes. The main character is going through a mid-life crisis--and his life wasn't much even before that. His beloved mother died when he was young; his father is unapproachable; his grandmother is vindictive and domineering, his wife leaves him for a younger, buffer man; his son is in trouble with the law; his Goth daughter's best friend dies on a gym floor; and on and on.
I love to read all kinds of books, and in the last 10 years have gone through a lot of them. I would list this as one of the worst.
Tatiana de Rosnay's follow up to the wonderful SARAH'S KEY does not have the same emotional wallop that its predecessor had, but A SECRET KEPT still tells an emotional, interesting story.
The book centers on Antoine Rey, a 43-year-old Parisian who takes his sister Melanie to Noirmoutier Island for her 40th birthday. It is a place where the Rey family spent their summers when the siblings were children. All that ended with the death of their mother, Clarisse, when they were still children. On the way home Melanie, who is driving, is just about to tell Antoine about a recollection she has of the last summer at Noirmoutier when the car veers off the road and lands Melanie in the hospital.
It is this part of the story that might be a bit misleading to the reader. Melanie's hospitalization and recovery do not really play all that an important role in the story, since about half way through the book, she pretty much becomes a non-entity, practically disappearing in the last half of the book. What this does do is introduce Antoine to Angele, who becomes his lover, helping him to get over his ex-wife Astrid who has left him for another man. It is this introduction that is probably the weakest part of the book since only in fiction could the affair begin the way it does here. I'm almost surprised that a woman wrote this since this is a typical male fantasy scenario.
Having said that, I did find the book compelling and engrossing. Death is a major theme in this book and not just in the physical sense. Death of childhood, memories, relationships play an important part in this story. I found Antoine to be a completely relatable character. He is an "every man" in a true sense. He struggles to find a way to connect with his children, his ex-wife, Angele and most importantly, is father.
I do recommend the book. Readers of SARAH'S KEY might be surprised at the storyline of this one, but will find it almost as enjoyable to read.
on October 8, 2011
This book is tedious, pretentious and totally boring. I borrowed it from a friend who claimed to not have had time to read it yet however am suspecting she found the book thoroughly uninteresting. If it was lent out and not returned no harm would be done. Antoine needs to just get over the divorce and move on! Geesh! For the author being primarily French, her characters sound more Scandinavian than Continental! The angst is unbearable! I'd rather read my niece's copy of "Twilight" than go through a book like this again, if I was looking for angst.
And the secret?... Oh, come on! Pull the other one! This is France! I have lived in Europe and this secret would be a non-issue with 99.9% of the French population... today and 100 years ago. A shrug with a "Eh, c'est la vie" thrown in and life would go on for most everyone involved.
I so loathe to review a book I didn't care for. I understand how hard the author toils to create characters and relay a story. I am going to make this pithy and to the point.
Primary characters are brother and sister, Antoine and Melanie. Both are Parisians experiencing midlife crisis. Antoine is 43, recently divorced, hates his job as an architect, hates his inability as a father and bemoans his past and present. Melanie just turned 40, unmarried, in a present affair with a married older man and opining her situation. A and M are in a car accident and the story drones on and on and on about their bitterness, their desultory existence, their wish for change. They discover a secret about their mother who died when they were young, but to me the secret was so evident it seemed anti-climatic.
I read till page 200; normally I stop reading a book after 100 pages, but just knew this story would perk up and not delve constantly into the disappointment of these two self-indulgent Parisians who whine vociferously. But it didn't and at page 200 of a 300 page book I said, "No more."
I appreciate the effort. I wish the author well. This wasn't a story for me though I am usually a sucker for books that explore the human condition. Perhaps, in fairness, it is because I am not French, knew nothing of the settings and constant French references. Whatever, I cannot recommend it as a read.
on January 5, 2011
When a novel is entitled A Secret Kept, you can safely assume it revolves around a secret. And that secret better be a good one. Unfortunately, I found Tatiana de Rosnay's sophomore effort to be a disappointment.
I was one of many readers who'd enjoyed Sarah's Key, and that was the principle reason I chose to read this novel. With her previous novel, it was the subject matter and the story being told that captured my attention, far more than the quality of her writing. Even then, I had to acknowledge that there was a cheesiness factor.
Unfortunately, that cheesiness is front and center in A Secret Kept. I started to write that it is the story of siblings Antoine and Mélanie Rey, but Antoine is our first-person narrator and this is really his story. As the novel opens, he has surprised his sister on the occasion of her 40th birthday. They are visiting the island resort they frequented for years as children. Neither has been back in 30-some years, since the sudden death of their mother. The return has been a mixed success, and it has reawakened old memories disturbing enough to cause Mélanie to literally lose control of the car they are in.
Antoine is unharmed, but Mélanie has a long recovery ahead of her. At first they begin to explore the implications of Mélanie's recovered memory together, but she pulls out, leaving him to dig alone. Along the path to discovery, de Rosnay throws every roadblock imaginable--including literal roadblocks!--in his way.
In addition to researching the past, there are events afoot in the present: family dramas, relationships beginning and ending, career highs and lows. I could summarize it all, but who really cares? None of it is especially compelling. And when the secrets are finally revealed and all the cards are on the table, none of it is very shocking or even that interesting. Plus, we had to read several love letters along the way that can only be described as cringe-worthy.
I partially read this book on paper, and partially listened to the audiobook. Narrator Simon Vance does a reasonable job with the material he has, but why have a novel peopled with French characters read by an actor with a British accent? Every French name and phrase is pronounced impeccably, so why not have the characters speak in their own accent? It seemed an odd choice.
This is certainly not the worst book I've ever read. It's solidly mediocre. And that's just not enough for me to go out of my way to recommend it to anyone. In the future, I'll think twice before reading a story because of de Rosnay's name alone.
What a disappointment. This books begins awkwardly with numerous changes in voice, switching between third person and first person, interspersed with old letters that give away most of the "secret" right from the start. It then settles into a first person narrative, which is unfortunate as the main character seems so soulless and self-centered. This middle-aged man constantly whines and obsesses about the death of his mother 30 years earlier, only stopping to whine about how his wife left him for another man, to make snarky observations about other people, and for various other complaints. Nothing much happens, although we do read way too much about what he eats for breakfast, lunch and dinner. There's also his relationship with a two-dimensional male-fantasy figure - she's half Substitute Mama and half Hot Mama. She's even a mortician, a perfect fit with his obsession over his real mother's death. Their liaison is neither romantic or erotic, just creepy.
I finished the book because I had heard about such good things about the author. I kept hoping for a turning point. The book does improve in the latter sections as things actually happen to some ancillary characters, but I never for a second cared about the main character.