Monday, January 10, 2011

Keep your secret and give me back my reading time

A Secret Kept
by Tatiana de Rosnay

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.


  1. Oh, I smiled all the way through your review. My ex book club raved over this book, and I just felt cheated out of my time by a completely predictable, manipulative, formulaic story. I vowed to never again read anything else this author writes, on principle alone.
    So glad you found it lacking too!
    Life's too short for crappy fiction and bad wine!

  2. Is that why they're your ex-book club? ;-)

  3. Yes, it was a sad combination of poor book choices (The Glass Castle for the second time!!) and social chit chat ruining the book talk. I just couldn't take it anymore. Some of the books they choose are good, but I read them when they came out years ago. These days, my best book clubs are virtual!
    Happy reading...

  4. Thanks for your thoughts on this book. I just picked up the audio version because I've been thinking about trying audiobooks. Sounds like this isn't the best choice to start with.

  5. Hi iubookgirl,

    Well, Mel's book club did rave about it... A Secret Kept may not be the best choice, but the idea to explore audiobooks isn't a bad one. I'm finding myself in the same position right now.

    I've never been a huge fan of audiobooks, primarily because of my own failings as a listener. (My mind tends to wander.) However, I've been getting into them more lately. I discovered that I could upload the audiobooks to my Kindle, and it was another way to enjoy my beloved device. So, I took advantage of a promotion to try a couple of free audiobooks via, a subscription service affiliated with Amazon. You may be doing the same thing, for all I know. Anyway, I liked it enough to stay on happily as a subscriber.

    I like it for several reasons. First, I like being able to "read" at times I was previously unable to do so, like while shopping in the mall, stitching on my embroidery, cooking dinner, etc. It helps me fit more reading time and more books into my life, and that is a no-brainer. Also, there have been some books that I have put off reading in paper, and the audio jump-started me. Audiobooks have been an excuse to go back and "read" books that I missed when they were first published. And, I haven't done this yet, but if I can find the time, I may listen to the audiobook versions of some beloved favorites for a new way to experience the book. I've never been able to recapture the magic of reading my favorite novel, A Prayer for Owen Meany, for the first time. I wonder if the audiobook would do that?

    Anyway, it's certainly worth checking the medium out and seeing how you feel about it. Two books that I especially enjoyed the audiobook version of were Freedom by Jonathan Franzen and Downtown Owl by Chuck Klosterman. Freedom is over 24 hours long with only a single reader, but his performance brought much to the text. Downtown Owl had about 6 readers taking separate chapters. There again, I really felt the actors' performances brought so much to the text, FWIW.

    Enjoy your explorations, and do share your own audiobook recommendations!