Last week I finished my Classics Club Spin book, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton. I decided to be a rebel and read a book that wasn’t a classic because at the time I was already reading a ton of classics. This is my second Kate Morton book; I read The House at Riverton in 2010.
The Secret Keeper begins with 16 year old Laurel daydreaming over a boy in her childhood tree house. What was supposed to be a lovely family birthday party for her 2-year old baby brother, Gerry, turns into a bloody family secret when Laurel witnesses her mother stabbing a stranger to death (not a spoiler, I promise) in view of the tree house. The matter is hushed up and the family never discusses that day. Life goes on and it isn’t until Laurel’s aging mother, Dorothy, is dying that Laurel feels the need to find out the truth about the murdered stranger and her mother’s enigmatic past. The story that unfurls involves the World War II blitz, love, loss, and two women — Dorothy and her friend, Vivien.
Let me start out by saying I really enjoyed this novel. Truly. When I closed the book for the last time I sat in my chair for a minute just contemplating what a marvelous read I enjoyed. The historical detail is spot on. The characters feel truly human and I was completely invested in their lives, stories, and secrets. The writing style pulled me in and it almost felt like a Sarah Waters novel, like a slightly less polished, less dark Sarah Waters.
However, while I like the writing and characters I did have some issues with the plot. First of all there is a PLOT TWIST and I guessed said PLOT TWIST less than fifty pages into the book. I resisted the inclination to race through the novel to see if I was correct. Instead, I read plot spoilers, ascertained that I was 100% correct, and then continued to read and enjoy the path to the end I knew was coming. Secondly — and this is what I think makes it not as good as a Sarah Waters novel — everything ends ridiculously neat and tidy. I read several reviews that voiced this issue, but in different ways. Some readers have issues with Laurel’s research being so productive. I do not have an issue with that. Laurel’s research is not aided by a series of convenient coincidences (well, not entirely). I do believe that if you read the right books and look thoroughly in libraries and places important to your research subject you will turn-up the information you need if it exists. Anyone who works in a library (like I do) can attest to the joys of research paying off. I do take issue with the neat ending to the characters lives. Life is messy. Love and war are especially messy. Each character in the book has a neat and tidy end. We know exactly what happened and why it happened and every character gets “what they deserved” to a certain extent. One character has a sad ending. She was unlikable, but I could sympathize with her and knew it was the only ending available for this sort of character. Her end, however, made the story even more annoyingly tidy.
Despite the over-neat ending and plot twist predictability, this book had depth and left me thinking about motherhood. Specifically, I thought about motherhood through a child’s eyes. I can remember being in my late teens and realizing that my mother was a person. I had always viewed her as the person who loved me, read stories aloud, cooked dinner, and chatted with my dad over a cup of coffee. Everything my mom did, every decision she made, was viewed by me as having “mom” reasons. For example,I thought mom read all those books and took all those trips to the library so I would be smart and I didn’t even think about how mom may have done it for that reason, but really it was because she loved books and libraries. When I was about nineteen — and pregnant with Hope — I realized that my mother was so much more than a mom. Hopes, dreams, secrets, insecurities, hobbies, passions, opinions… my mom had this entire other life outside of being mom and it completely blew my mind. The Secret Keeper is a journey to find the answers to a brutal killing, but it is also Laurel’s journey and wonderment and learning who Dorothy is outside of her role as mother. In the end, mysteries are solved when Laurel remembers her mom as Dorothy, and not just mom. It made me think about how my kids view me and my past. I want them to know — especially my daughters — that all moms have other lives. We’re more than moms and our life experiences, joys, sorrows, and learning make us into the mothers we are today.
I was torn with how best to rate this novel. I give it four out of five stars for writing and character development and three out of five stars for plot, 3.5 sounds just about right.