My very first book blog review was of Sarah’s Key by de Rosnay, and it was such a heartbreaking story but beautifully written. I eventually watched the movie, which broke my heart again, and then decided to investigate what else de Rosnay had written- and found A Secret Kept. I didn’t know what to expect, but I anticipated another heart-wrenching novel. I was not disappointed.
In modern day Paris, France, Antoine has decided he needs to get away from his problems and decides the best way to do so is to celebrate the good times of the past with his sister, Mélanie, for her birthday. Both of them have recently been through bad break-ups, so traveling to their family’s old vacation haunt in Noirmoutier seemed like the perfect escape. While away for the long weekend, Antonie reflects on his life- the devastating divorce from his ex-wife Astrid caused by her affair with a man named Serge; his teenage children that has become strangers to him; and his tattered relationship with his father and the extended Rey family after his mother’s untimely passing in 1974. Antonie isn’t sure what can be done to mend the broken relationships in his life- but he’s thankful that Mélanie has remained a constant companion through it all.
While Mélanie and Antonie vacation, the memories of their childhood bubble to the surface in little bursts. Antonie was eight years old, his sister five, when they were there last in 1972. They remember the trips to watch le Passage de Gois be swallowed by the Atlantic with the tide changes, the elegant dinners with their grandparents, and even a few familiar faces. But what floods to the forefront of their minds is the memories associated with their mother, Clarisse.
She passed away two years after their last trip to Noirmoutier, due to an aneurysm. Ever since that fateful day, the Rey family buried the memory of Clarisse, and she became a taboo topic to discuss. To be in Noirmoutier was like giving them permission to talk about her, to remember her. But then on the drive back to Paris, Mélanie remembers something so startling that when she turns to tell Antonie, who was in the passanger seat, she loses control of the car. As Antonie awaits the update from the doctor, he can’t help but wonder what the recollection was, despite his agony of the unknown condition of his beloved sister. As Tatiana de Rosnay slowly reveals the truth about Clarisse, Antonie finally comes to realize that he barely knew who his mother really was.
Overall, I found A Secret Kept both heartbreaking and yet brutally truthful. Reading from the perspective of a grown man was a little more disturbing that I expected, but in the sense that the honesty that came from Antoine was both graphic and emotional. I don’t think I really cared for Antoine, but I did pity him as he contemplated his poor relationships with his family and ex-wife. I did, however, love the plot. I love looking into the past through someone else’s eyes, and the fact that there was a shroud of mystery surrounding Clarisse and her affair was very intriguing. I wanted to know what happened just as much as Antoine. I also love the imagery that de Rosnay creates- I felt like I was in France, in Paris, in Noirmoutier. The pieces of french that she incorporates into the novel are lush little nuggets, and the way she describes the streets and buildings make me feel like I’m right there with the main character.
I don’t know if I would recommend this book to many, due to it’s heavy nature and adult content, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t relish it. It’s another example of de Rosnay’s beautiful writing, and the complex nature of relationships, family, and life.