Quick note: I wrote this post several weeks ago, when I’d just finished reading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. Just to anyone who was wondering about the date details or anything like that. Also, my perspective on The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets has probably changed somewhat since this writing, but below are my impressions from having just finished the book for the first time.
I saw The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets in my local library a week or so ago, and on a normal day I would probably never have taken it home. For one thing, it has been blatantly squashed into the chick-lit genre. It has a pastel-heavy cover adorned with a wurly-curly cursive title, along with a little drawing of a pink dress-clad woman in the corner. At first sight, it’s made pretty clear who this book is aimed at. However, I did pick it up, thanks to its mention on this wonderful blog. I figured it wouldn’t be much of a hard-going read – besides, the blurb reminded me of I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith, one of my all-time favourite books. So I did bring it home, and in the end I’m glad I did.
The Lost of Keeping Secrets is, first and foremost, set in the 1950s England, post-WWII. The female lead is Penelope, a girl-woman in her late teens who spends her time before the start of the book mostly working, studying, and hanging out around her historical-but-falling-apart home with her brother and mother. This all changes in the first chapter, when Penelope is somewhat forcefully taken back to the house of the vivacious Charlotte to have tea with the latter’s aunt and cousin. Things snowball from there, with Penelope getting invited to parties, meeting up with Charlotte, becoming increasingly involved with her friend’s mocking cousin Harry, and all the while trying to keep up with her mother’s delicate mental state and brother’s growing obsession with the new rock ‘n’ roll music of the times.
One thing I really liked about The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets was the side characters. Charlotte is one of those people that you want to be in a scene just because they make it so much fun. I loved how she eats lots, has poor table manners, and is pretty pushy at times, yet you still find her incredibly entertaining. I felt like I really got the sense of how she comes across to characters in the book, as having some sort of unidentifiable but undeniable charm. Harry, too, made for a great male lead. He wasn’t the typical tall, dark, and handsome type – in fact, he’s short and is actually described as “not the most handsome boy”. He’s flawed, like all round characters should be, but his self-confidence and magnetism came straight up through the pages. It’s not really relevant, but I’d like to mention how much I adored the fact that he had eyes of two different colours. It was a bit disappointing to find out this was due to being stabbed in the eye with a pencil, not heterochromia – it was a cool trait, anyway.
I wasn’t so keen on Penelope as character, which is a shame because she is the protagonist. It wasn’t so much that she wasn’t likeable, but more a case of feeling like not much of her personality came across. Having finished the book, I still don’t feel like I knew much about her. Rocky, too, was meant to be a charismatic older American man, but didn’t come across as adding much to the book other than as a resolution for certain plot details. Funnily enough, the other American in the book, the possibly antagonistic Marina, came across as having a very distinct character and I liked seeing what she was going to do next, what with her unpredictable mind and all.
Eva Rice’s writing style is easy to read and created an atmosphere well. A few too many descriptions of delicious tea-time snacks led me to get up from my bed in the middle of the night and raid the kitchen for food, so I’ll take that as a sign of good writing on Rice’s part. There were some issues with it, especially in that Penelope’s personality didn’t come across much and the sentences felt contrived at times. Rice partly makes up for this in her lovely scene descriptions, though.
In summary, reading The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets was a bit like eating one of the tea-time treats Rice describes in the book – it’s not going to keep you thinking for weeks afterward, but it’s sweet and enjoyable whilst you’re consuming it. It wasn’t a book that will stay with me for the rest of my life. Still, I liked reading it and would recommend it if you’re looking for something light and fun and not too serious. It’s set in the 1950s as well, which doesn’t hurt.
Overall rating: 7/10