Review of “The Secret Keeper” by Kate Morton

In spite of being an avid reader, I remain astonishingly clueless when it comes to picking up clues, innuendos, and allusions in plots. Thus, when I began this book, I couldn’t imagine how any of what I was reading could possibly be plausible. I persevered however, and was rewarded by it all making sense to me in the end (and into the wee hours of the night, when I was reviewing what happened in my head).

Laurel Nicolson is sixteen years old in 1961 when she witnesses something terrible and inexplicable to her (and to me!) that shatters her illusion of her family’s life as “perfect.” The book next moves us up fifty years, to 2011, when Laurel’s mother, now almost 90, is dying. Laurel again has occasion to ponder the events of that summer’s day so long in her past, and begins to feel desperate to find out what it all meant before her mother is no longer around to share the truth. As the story moves backwards and forwards in time from the 1940’s to 2011, we, along with Laurel, finally come to understand the secrets that have remained hidden for all those years.

Discussion: This book moved quite slowly for me at first. Nothing was making sense to me, and I was impatient with the author’s slow build-up of atmosphere. Nevertheless, I didn’t want to stop reading. When I finally got gobsmacked by what other astute readers might have seen long before, I was fully invested with the story. There are at least two other ways I can think of that it could have all turned out, and it seems to me that the author chose the best of the possibilities.

The characters are very well-drawn, their portraits rich with irony. There is Dolly Smitham, who loved to pretend (“There was nothing that made her spin quite like it, the invisible moment of transition when she stopped being Dolly Smitham, and became instead Someone Else”); Jimmy Metcalfe, a sensitive World War II photographer who specialized in the breaking-through of illusions; and Vivien Jenkins, the mysterious and beautiful woman whom no one seemed to know. You will find it hard to forget any of them!

Evaluation: If you feel a bit lost or stalled at the beginning, as I did, I recommend staying the course. I admit that I didn’t appreciate the book much until the end, when all the meanings and the well-crafted ironies became clear. My evaluation of the book increased quite a bit at that point.

Rating: 3.5/5

Published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc., 2012

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33 Responses

  1. This sounds a bit how I found The House At Riverton, not particularly great until the end. A few people have said the slowness is Morton’s style, and it seems it either works or doesn’t depending on the book or reader. I like how you’ve said there were different paths the plot could have followed, it makes it sound intriguing.

    • I never found it slow I certainly never guessed the end,it was such a surprise.

  2. I never heard of this author before, but I read another review and it sounds interesting.

  3. I haven’t read this yet … It’s so hard to keep up. I’ll remember the slow start and stick with it.

  4. I think this is Morton’s style as I found the plot build up slow in her first 2 books as well, but then “bingo” I ended up enjoying them. This one will be one of my final books for 2012 –planning on that anyways. Thanks for sharing Jill.

  5. I would agree, what I have read of Morton I have found to be slow to get moving. She is enjoyable, but do you need to work a bit to get there . :)

  6. I’m reading it now and I TOTALLY agree with you about the beginning of the book! It does get better. I can’t wait to find out how it all comes together in the end. Great review. It’s spot on!

  7. I’ll have to wait for a quiet time (ha!) to read this if it’s slow to start. When things are hectic, I need a book to grab me right from the start.

  8. I am going to be reading this one soon, so your advice to stick with it, even though the beginning is slow is invaluable. It will be my first Morton, which should give me a really good idea of what her others are like, though I have heard several say that this was their favorite!

    • I never found it so slow,I was always intrigued to know what would happen next,the ending was a total surprise.

  9. It was similar with The House at Riverton for me, but the characters are rich and the build up is worth it in the end.

  10. And now do you want to re-read it all again? If a book ends this way for me it can totally redeem a slow or plodding beginning. I’ve been meaning to read something by Morton but for some reason I was thinking all her books were set in the 1800s! I have The Distant Hours on audio–I really should get to it!

    • I love the fact all her books have an Australian connection,usually Queensland,they are all set in the20th centuary with this one as recent as 2011.

  11. On hold for this one on audio, and I can’t wait. This is what Morton does though…she takes her time and creates a million threads and finely and intricately spins it together into a gorgeous quilt (or something). While you are reading, you just can’t imagine what the hell is going on, but she is so clever, this woman. I loves her lots.

  12. I loved this! I saw the end coming, but I still liked it. :)

    And, I’m so glad I read your post! I have my review queued up for tomorrow afternoon – but I listened to the audio version, and thought it was “Vivian”, not Vivien! I’m gonna doublecheck all the other names I referenced really fast too!

  13. Lol! I just googled it, and Vivian and Vivien both show up — including spelled both ways in the same review! Which is right???

  14. You have me very curious about what happens – I’m going to have to read this one!

  15. I didn’t love The Distant Hours and I’m still on the fence about reading another Kate Morton. Everyone seems to rave about this one though! I appreciate knowing that it is a slow starter.
    2 Kids and Tired Books

  16. Of her books I have only read The Forgotten Garden, but it sounds as if her style is similar in all of her books (based on your review an other people’s comments here).

  17. Slow start. I love Kate’s first two books but there were mixed reviews about this. Maybe I should give it a go. What do you think? Is it worth the time?

  18. Everyone seems to be talking about Kate Morton lately. I think it is a sign I need to read one of her books. I have The Forgotten Garden already so I’ll start there.

  19. I have wanted to read Kate Morotn books for some time now. I think I will give this one a try.
    Great review.

  20. I tend to be a pretty oblivious reader too and rarely pick up on clues or guess twists before they happen! I am glad to hear I am not alone on that front. ;)

    I have heard good things about Morton but never tried one of her books for myself. They sound like they’d be good beach reads for me while we’re traveling… I’ll have to see if I can find any of them while we are on the road!

  21. I liked the way the plot went, ultimately, but I also sort of wished it would get there faster. I think there was some bulk to the book that could have been cut to the non-detriment of the story.

  22. Ohmigosh, I TOTALLY know what you mean about reading books and having no idea what they are about and missing out on all sorts of allusions and clues. This is why I never “solve” mystery novels – I don’t even try. I just like to read and enjoy the story.

    I admit Kate Morton is not an author I’ve really ever considered reading. I am not sure why. I just have a feeling I wouldn’t like her. I am judgmental like that.

  23. Darn it! How did I miss this one? Sounds like a book that I need to read!

  24. I had some problems with The Forgotten Garden, for some of the same reasons – including finding much of it unbelievable. This one does sound like at least in the end, those points are worked out so I may give Morton another try.

  25. An author I still want to try. Glad this one worked in the end.

  26. I have this book but I wasn’t sure if I should start reading it yet. I think I’ll wait until I have some time to focus on it.

  27. Wow, I love, love love Kate Morton. When I start one of her books, I know I’m going to be immersed in her world for quite a while. It never seems to me that her books start slowly. I think she’s a master of creating atmosphere. The Secret Keeper was a great read to me but The Distant Hours is still my favorite.

  28. Thanks for the warning that the beginning might be slow. This one is in my pile to read soon, and I can’t wait!

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