Freya North has numerous publications under her belt and often makes use of characters for more than one book without creating a saga. Her individuality within the chick-lit genre has earned her many fans and a literary presence nationwide.
Publisher: Harper Collins
First Published: 2009
Date Reviewed: 30th June 2009
Secrets is currently one of the recommendations that comes up if you view chick-lit on Amazon – which is how I came across it, having never heard of North before. The cover is radiant in its shades of pink and it seems from the last few releases that the publishers aim to continue this unique style. It’s certainly eye-catching, something obviously worked on to achieve that effect. North herself has said that she judges books by their cover, and first impressions count.
Tess lives in London with her daughter Em. Her landlord wants his rent and there’s a knock on the door every day. But Tess has read an advertisement for a house-sitter in Saltburn and acts on impulse, setting up an interview and rushing north the very next day. Joe doesn’t take to her too well, her slightly over-powering nature over decisions for his big old house apparent before he’s even given her the job – in fact, did he give her the job? Didn’t she just turn up and end up staying? Neither Tess nor Joe particularly favour each other but as time goes on they inevitably find the things that irritated them turn to appreciation. Joe has many women on the go and a libido to equal the number. Tess also has her secrets. So how will they both fair when together?
The first thing that may strike you as a reader is the way North writes. She makes use of all tenses and refers to her characters herself (North plays narrator) as well as from their own viewpoint and in the third person. She jumps back and forth between tenses as though she’s set paragraphs to a formula. This will either be a welcomed change to most authors’ work or something you come to dread as you pick up your copy for another sitting.
Initially the story is vague, Tess is just someone, Em could possibly be her friend, and the knocks on the door might be her violent husband. All are explained in due course, though the latter much later in the book, though at first the reader is thrown directly into the present situation with no real knowledge of Tess’s background or character. It becomes quite confusing to learn that Tess is more cultured than you’d imagined from the descriptions given.
Yet North creates an even greater problem for our relationship with Tess. To being with, Tess is headstrong, intelligent, and ill-fitting of her humble London surroundings. As her story draws ever nearer the end she’s portrayed as weak, ditzy, and much more suited to her rented flat in the capital. Fortunately similar cannot be said of Joe who remains about the same. In fact the best aspect of the book has to be the way North has included Joe. He is given just as much time as Tess and is as detailed as her too. His inclusion makes North one of the only chick-lit authors men could be unashamed to read.
The story is solid – in its stoic way. There are no moments of excitement or really anything to keep you reading other than the descriptions of the characters which, to be fair, are top-notch, but unless you hit it off with the characters within the first few chapters there’s no reason to continue. The story, without revealing anything that couldn’t be predicted, is this: a penniless single mother runs away to look after a house where she falls in love with the owner and they live together. The only thing that isn’t predictable revolves around the house. Don’t get too attached to it, North causes quite the unnecessary upset.
Apparently there are secrets in this book, as the title suggests. But what’s “revealed” is nothing more than you’d already been introduced to or teased about and are simply things you knew but the characters didn’t share with one another. The book hangs on the premise of these so-called secrets – ultimately meaning that the book is a flop.
However all of the above pale in comparison to this, the last point I will make. As the characters get together and struggle through what life throws at them – which really isn’t much over the course of the book – Tess gets soppier and soppier. The narrative gets gushier and it becomes an incredibly cheesy romance book, the kind of thoughts and dialogue you’d expect from a Disney movie. If Tess dressed in a ball-gown and broke into song you’d either stomp back to the bookstore and demand your money back, or you wouldn’t bat an eyelid for all the surprising it’d provide.
With a little more thought, Secrets could have been a winner as it’s obvious North has the skill to be the best. As it is however, beyond the illustrious first chapters it’s no more interesting than your own summer holiday on the coast of a county near you and there is nothing to remember afterwards. You might as well just keep living your own regular life and borrow your other half’s books – it’s what Tess is doing.