The truth can haunt you.
Publisher: Bantam Press (Random House)
First Published: 7th July 2011
Date Reviewed: 31st August 2011
Sarah left Laurie after he’d decided to sleep with her friend because he couldn’t understand her [Sarah’s] depression over giving birth to a stillborn baby. She travelled to Sicily with her sister in order to get away from everything and it’s there she meets Alexander and his son Jamie. Alexander’s wife has left him after a turbulent marriage and no one knows what’s happened to her, but to Sarah that’s not as important as the feelings she is starting to have for him. When Alexander suggests she move in with him and Jamie and live in the village of Burrington Stoke, where outsiders are not welcome, she joins him on impulse. But the mystery of the wife is far from over.
Douglas has created a work that binds different genres together into something quite extraordinary. What’s intriguing about it is the way in which it’s told. Douglas favours a sort of detailed abstract style – there is plenty of detail in it but sometimes it feels as though she’s left things out, the not so important things, even if in actual fact she hasn’t. It’s a unique style and means that you come away with a completely different experience than you do with so many writers who are hard to tell apart from style alone.
The story is well plotted. There is never a dull moment, during the mundane activities Douglas never lets her narrator stop thinking. The book takes place over several months yet it could just as easily have been a few days for how quickly it moves, and rather than be strange this aspect is interesting. It shows how rapidly problems can escalate.
Now Sarah is a difficult one to place on the spectrum of good or bad because she is clearly affected by the death of her child, and the reader can see times where her judgment is affected because of it where she can’t herself. Because her depression continues throughout the book one only knows her in this state. Yet a few things she does makes you wonder how much is due to her trauma and how much is due to that usual feeling of jealousy in love. Does what Sarah does sometimes illustrate control from outside, her mental state, or a spiteful character?
The book dissects the idea of a perfect living situation and shows how undercurrents can produce more harm than situations generally thought to be harmful. When everyone is living in everyone else’s pockets, everyone seems to know everything. But this feature of the village actually introduces the situation where no one actually knows anything and had there been true discretion the mystery might have been solved a lot quicker. Lives lived in public produced more secrets.
There is so much detail and thought given to the twists in the plot and the red herrings. Unlike a lot of books where at least some of the results are obvious early on, in The Secrets Between Us you really can’t say for certain what’s happened or who played a part. It’s like a whodunit only in pure “literary fiction” style and without the detective narrator.
The characters and their secrets affect the reader’s knowledge, as the reader only ever knows as much as Sarah does about Alexander. In this way the book’s title takes on a second meaning – not only are there secrets between the couple, those secrets spill over to the reader.
Some things are never used in the plot, such as the similarities between the wealthy mother and her daughter. When Virginia discusses her theories with Sarah never does the irony of the situation come into play, whether in discussion or in thought. And an idea about police involvement doesn’t get resolved.
But the few negatives are nothing when placed in the whole. Douglas is an extremely talented author whose ability to spread out a plot over a vast number of pages without once waning, still has this reviewer in awe. When she does exploit the idea of drama she still keeps a hold of the element of realism and possibility and so the book is truly spooky. And even though it’s spooky you just can’t stop reading it.
You will take away with you knowledge – the knowledge that you still have so little knowledge about the characters, which is something you don’t actually realise until you think back on the book. Douglas had you going there for a minute, thinking you know everything, but you don’t. Those secrets that were between you and the book are actually still there. And that feeling is incredibly satisfying.
The Secrets Between Us is for anyone who is looking for one of those elusive blow-me-away books, those that are off the scale for reasons you could never quite explain.
I received this book for review from Transworld Publishing, Random House.
September 4, 2011, 3:39 pm
I’m glad to hear you enjoyed this. It’s on my list for the Transworld challenge too so I should be reading it soon. I hope I like it as much as you did!
Charlie: I’d say, from the books you’ve read, that you will enjoy it!