Parisienne Mélanie Rey has recently broken up with her beau. Her brother Antoine has recently divorced his wife. So it seems fitting that they celebrate Mélanie’s 40th birthday somewhere that they remember as carefree, happy times: Noirmoutier Island, a childhood holiday escape with many fond memories. They stay in the same hotel as when they were very young, walk the same streets, and even see some of the same people. And the memories start trickling in. But it turns out that some of them aren’t so happy. Mélanie, in particular, begins to appear distressed by her trip to the past. She turns quiet at first, then introspective, and finally, uncharacteristically agitated.
"The secret kept is the mystery at the core of this evocative story. But this is far more than a simple mystery."
The birthday was fun, but as she is driving them back to Paris, she becomes more and more troubled. Finally, she can keep it inside no longer. Antoine, there’s something I need to say. I’ve kept it back all day. Last night, at the hotel, I remembered something. Something about…”
Something so disturbing that she loses control of the car, leaving her in a small village hospital with mild amnesia and Antoine wringing his hands with worry. While her brother passes the long hours awaiting her recovery, he is joined by their father, a distant and uncommunicative man; Antoine’s ex-wife, for whom he still has an aching passion; and his kids, two of whom have grown into sulky, ill-tempered teens and one who is rapidly approaching that age. He can’t help but marvel at how it all came to this. But before he can fall deeper into his blue funk, a femme fatale in the form of a mortician sweeps him off his feet. Antoine decides that, even if she views him as merely a trifle, things are definitely looking up.
Eventually, Mélanie pulls out of her fog and reveals to Antoine her last thought before the car went off the road. It involves their mother, Clarisse, long dead now, and an apparent affair. But not just an affair. The person with whom Clarisse was carrying on turns out to be a real stunner. Mélanie and Antoine wonder who else knew of this relationship.
The secret kept is the mystery at the core of this evocative story. But this is far more than a simple mystery. It is a deeply reflective look into one family’s interrelationships, complete with all their mistakes and fatal flaws. Several generations of Reys made colossal faux pas as they struggled to raise their children and keep their marriages together, and they suffered many failures. Now their past may be coming back to heal them.
Author Tatiana de Rosnay weaves in the recurring theme of death: young or old, loved or reviled, unexpected or inevitable, sudden or drawn-out. The end of life comes at us in many ways, and how we leave this world may be how we are forever remembered. In this instance, Antoine has a burning desire to know exactly how his mother died. Was it as he had always thought, or was there more to the story than the family revealed? Mélanie, having once remembered the disturbing secret, wants nothing more than to lock it back away. While the quest for answers breathes new life into her brother, the mere revelation was enough for her. For their own diverse reasons, people handle situations very differently.
This is a lovely book, a snapshot of how a family sought to protect itself and how their secret might have been best left buried but, once uncovered, how it needed to be explained. It examines how an affair affected a father’s relationship with his children, and how the children viewed him in divergent ways. A SECRET KEPT will bring its readers smiles, but also tears and days of thoughtful meditation.
Reviewed by Kate Ayers on September 14, 2010
A Secret Kept