Book Review: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice
‘Set in the 1950’s, in an England still recovering from the Second World War, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is the enchanting story of Penelope Wallace and her eccentric family at the start of the second rock ‘n’ roll era.
Penelope longs to be grown-up and to fall in love; but various rather inconvenient things keep getting in her way. Like her mother, a stunning but petulant beauty widowed at a tragically early age, her younger brother, Inigo, currently capable of concentrating on anything that isn’t Elvis Presley, a vast but crumbling ancestral home, a severe shortage of cash, and her best friend Charlotte’s sardonic cousin Harry…’
My copy of this book has been re-read so many times it is falling apart. For those of you who are familiar with ‘I capture the Castle’, this book has a very similar feel and atmosphere.
It is a charming story full of wonderful, eccentric characters. I love period novels, and this one has a great vintage feel (and I just love the pink edges of the book). Penelope is such a lovely character – she is your typical teenager, growing up, going through changes, no idea what she wants to do in her life. Trying to find her place in a world that is only just coming out of rationing, dreaming of Johnny Ray, and dealing with an over dramatic, depressed mother. She is so quaint, and reserved and proper but still utterly likeable and rather hilarious (she pretends to enjoy great works of art and literature when really she’d rather be out dancing), that you can’t help but fall in love with her. Penelope’s life changes forever after a chance meeting with fun, confident, Charlotte who upon meeting her in a bus stop, immediately invites her to share a taxi with her, swap coats and come to tea at Aunt Clare’s…
(I must take a moment to point out how much Aunt Clare made my laugh. I can only hope one day, to be exactly like her)
”I don’t really know many boys . Well, my brother has his school friends, I suppose, but they seem awfully young and silly to me.’
‘How lovely to have a younger brother with pretty friends,’ sighed Charlotte. And how lovely they would think her, I thought.
‘Very useful for tennis,’ remarked Aunt Clare’.
~ page 25
All the characters in this book are delightful and well rounded. What I loved most was how everyone just felt so real. No one was perfect or unbelievably good looking. Just normal people with hopes, fears and dreams that we slowly begin to understand as the story progresses; and the characters were all the more attractive for it. Penelope is no stunning beauty but slowly becomes beautiful throughout the story as she comes into herself and gains confidence. Charlotte very attractiveness lies in her character – so full of life and laughter. These are ordinary girls having every day adventures and you can’t help but wish you were alongside them for the journey.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a wonderfully crafted story, subtly built up in a way that felt realistic, but never dull. Penelope is persuaded to pretend to be the new girlfriend of Harry (Charlotte’s cousin), who is heartbroken that the woman he loves is marrying another man. He aims to use Penelope to make her jealous in the hopes of winning her back. Of course, nothing is so simple as it seems, and some very amusing and touching situations ensue. I’m sure just by reading the basic storyline you will think you can guess what inevitably will happen, but I think you’ll find some lovely surprises along the way. This story doesn’t go down the predictable route and I enjoyed it all the more for it. It isn’t your typical romance story (it is in fact, one of the best written romances I have come across), one that doesn’t take precedence over the many other, often more important, relationships within the book. You won’t find any grand declarations of love but some highly charged scenes that you will have you reading them again and again as you fall in love right alongside them.
I found myself utterly drawn into this world Eva Rice has created. It is simply a beautiful story and the ending is very moving and brilliantly written. Trust me when I say, you’ll be drawn in and love taking every step with Penelope as she finally experiences life to the fullest and learns a thing or two along the way. There will always be a special place for Penelope, Charlotte, Harry, Aunt Clare, Rocky, Marina, Talitha, Inigo and Julian the Loaf in my heart.
It’s just so deliciously random. And quintessentially English. I want my best friend to be Charlotte. I want to drink cocktails and dance the night and morning hours away at the Ritz, curl up with a book and a gramophone at Magna, and take a picnic in the Long Gallery. This book never fails to make me smile. Perfect for curling up under a rug with, with a hot chocolate (or gingerbread latte if you’re so inclined!)
I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite quotes. As for me, I’m off to tea at Aunt Clare’s.
‘Aunt Clare was married to a very smart man called Samuel Delancy until three years ago. One of those fearfully good-looking but very mean types. Anyway, he was killed by a falling bookcase.’
‘Yes, really, it just collapsed on his head as he sat reading On the Origin of Species – very ironic my mother kept saying’.
‘Did you think him very handsome?’ Charlotte asked her. Aunt Clare paused before answering. ‘I wouldn’t say that he was handsome the usual way,’ she admitted. ‘He was too rare for that, too unusual-looking with that strange colouring and those long eyelashes. Goodness me, Charlotte,’ she went on, much her old self again, ‘who on earth ever fell in love with anyone who looked handsome? What a ghastly bore handsome is.’
~ page 396
Recommended Reading Age: 14+