"The Secret" Kathryn Hughes
Mary has been nursing a secret. Forty years ago, she made a choice that would change her world for ever, and alter the path of someone she holds dear.
Beth is searching for answers. She has never known the truth about her parentage, but finding out could be the lifeline her sick child so desperately needs. When Beth finds a faded newspaper cutting amongst her mother's things, she realises the key to her son's future lies in her own past. She must go back to where it all began to unlock...The Secret.
"She had first married Thomas Roberts in the school playground when she was five years old."
This is one of the most lovely first lines I have come across. It sets such a warm, tender, romantic opening for a story which proceeds to be one of love, loss, tragedy and resolution. I was entranced from the beginning.
Sadly, the promise of true love does not hold for Mary and Thomas. Set in 1975, we are quickly drawn into the social and historical setting of the mining town where the story begins, joining the Roberts as they begin their married life together with the hope of a new baby, the underlying sense of danger for Thomas as he returns to his shift down the mine quietly hovering in the background.
Tragedy strikes in chapter 2 - to be honest, it's not that much of a surprise. Hughes has set the stage purposefully and the reader senses something terrible is about to befall the happy couple- you can almost hear the orchestral accompaniment playing alongside, preparing us for the inevitable disaster. No book can sustain such contentedness - what sort of novel would that make?!
And even though we can guess what's happening, the melodrama is well executed. The "incessant ringing" pulling Mary from a "groggy" and "dreamless sleep" at 3.37am, the gloom, dizziness and breath of both the listener and the speaker all creates a highly charged scene.
We then move to 2016 and are introduced to Beth, Michael and their son Jake who desperately needs a kidney transplant as he lies in hospital receiving dialysis. Beth is highly strung, anxious and stressed out with the worry, aware that she is over reacting and stretching the patience of her husband but equally, and understandably, unable to stop herself.
We discover that Mary is Beth's mother and has just passed away. While trying to distract herself from the scene in the hospital, Beth goes to her mother's house to sort through her belongings. There she finds a newspaper article and a letter. The reader is not shown these items or given any clues - except that they make Beth throw up. She suddenly wants to be back with Michael as she reassures herself that is her family now where there are "no secrets or half truths to muddy the waters of her very existence."
Well, so she thinks!
I loved the intrigue Hughes creates at this point in the novel. We then return to 1976 and follow the story from there to modern day. Clues, suggestions, revelations and realisations peppering the chapters along the way creating tension, excitement and suspense all the way until the end.
There is a large cast of characters and although I struggled a little at times to place where everyone fell in the jigsaw and how everyone was connected and related, Hughes manages the various threads well. I really enjoyed piecing the story together and watching the "secret" get buried, half discovered, fully unearthed and then watching how the subsequent ramifications played out.
The characters are all very lively and vivid. Hughes ensures that sympathy, empathy and understanding is directed at the right people at the right time. Her dialogue, historical and social detail are all authentic and this book flows with ease, the pages almost turning themselves.
There is not a sudden twist or rug-pulling moment as the truth behind the secret comes to light. This novel is more about relationships, human cost and the emotional turmoil of the people affected. Hughes is exploring parenthood, maternal love, forgiveness and families rather than trying to shock us with contrived revelations. It's an emotional and emotive read.
Reviews are full of words like "poignant", "tender," "uplifting" and "moving". I would agree with all of these. I raced through "The Secret" as it is engaging and there are plenty of characters to care about. The dual time line keeping the reader intrigued as we are aware that somehow the stories must collide.
This is an easy read. If you like Catherine Law, Sharon Maas, Jojo Moyes, Amanda Prowse, you will enjoy this novel. It sits comfortably in the historical romance genre and would sit very nicely on your armchair one evening or weekend!
For more information you can follow Kathryn Hughes on Twitter @KHughesAuthor and also through Headline Press. "The Secret" published in September 2016. I received my copy from Bookbridgr.
For more reviews and recommendations from me, you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)