Friday, 21 November 2014

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

published 2005, set in the mid-1950s








[Penelope is attending a ball in a large private house in London]

She was dressed in an unflattering off-white crinoline, a heat rash creeping over her plump shoulders… ‘Penelope! What are you doing here?’ she yelled, speaking aloud what I had been wondering about her. ‘You look different . It’s your hair, isn’t it?’ I nodded, my heart sinking with shame. Why should the only person I knew at this gathering be Hope Allen? She glanced around and her eyes lit upon Charlotte, deep in chatter with the Wentworth twins.

‘Heavens! Don’t look now , but that’s Charlotte Ferris and the Wentworth girls over there,’ she hissed, swinging her back to them, ‘I read something about Charlotte in the Standard last month. They said she was the only girl in London who can wear Dior, identify a great claret and talk to the Teds,’ she added in one of those whispers that comes out louder than a normal voice. I wanted the polished floors of the saloon to swallow me whole. And I had my doubts about the Standard. The only thing I had ever heard Charlotte say when consuming wine was ‘Yum’.






observations: I recently did a list of ‘Books like I Capture the Castle’ – I defined them as books about ‘Young women growing up in amusing circumstances, and how they achieve what they want in life’ – ICTC being the very best of these. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets was recommended by Sam Eades, publicist at Pan Macmillan and the person who triggered my list, so of course I had to read it.

It’s a fun read, and very much falls within my category (it mentions Constant Nymph, one of my list): Penelope lives in a crumbling mansion with her family, she makes friends with the Charlotte mentioned above, they have adventures together while looking for love and a purpose in life. The 1950s setting is nicely done: there are Teddy boys, and the girls are big fans of pop singer Johnny Ray, and are slowly becoming aware of Elvis Presley.

I liked the simplicity of the book: there is no real jeopardy, it’s obvious there’s going to be a happy ending, and it’s obvious who with, and almost everyone in it is good-hearted. The first meeting between Charlotte and Penelope is unconvincingly contrived, but in that regard prepares you for the completely hopeless secret connection between their families which is (un-tensely) kept till near the end.

There was a problem with the derelict mansion where Penelope and her family live: it had been in her family for hundreds of years, and her father had died leaving behind her mother, herself and her brother. It would seem obvious (given the time and situation) that her brother would inherit the estate, not her mother, but this is never mentioned, never arises: that whole section of the plot didn’t really make sense, and didn’t seem realistic.

Also, After Eights did not exist at the time, so Penelope could not have been eating them. And a couple of times Ms Rice seems to have changed something in the plot and not followed through – times and clothes aren’t always right.

But that’s just me being picky. This is a nice book, a good Sunday afternoon comfort read if that is what you are after, and certainly should be on my list of books like ICTC.

The big picture shows a debutante ball in 1959.

The two young debs in the other picture are – wait for it – Vanessa Redgrave and Lady Antonia Fraser. Those were the days. [Antonia Fraser's creation, Jemima Shore, was one of our top female detectives in yesterday's list, and her book Oxford Blood is on the blog here.]

14 comments:

  1. Not one for me today I'm afraid. I did think the lady on the left was a young Margaret Thatcher, but after scrolling down it's a no. She was probably helping out behind the counter at her dad's shop as opposed to attending a ball!

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    1. I KNOW! She totally looks like M Thatcher doesn't she, that's exactly what I thought but I was holding back. But no, very much not a Thatcher background....

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  2. Moira - Sometimes a fun 'comfort read' like this is just the ticket. And although I'm generally one who likes things to fit and makes sense, there are some books where you just forgive those little inconsistencies. And I really do love the wit in that description of Hope Allen! Priceless!

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    1. Yes, this book is witty and fun, and I think good on the way women talk to and about each other. The perfect read for certain times....

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  3. Interesting and a perfect setting. Probably won't make it to my book piles anytime soon though. I admire that you notice items like the After Eights; my brain rarely picks up things like that.

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    1. I think I'm probably too fussy, Tracy! But I can't help it, and it does trip me up when I'm reading a book, it breaks the mood for me when people get historical details wrong.

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  4. Moira, "simplicity" and an uncomplicated narrative is how I like my books, too, irrespective of the genre. Sadly, they are not always like that.

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    1. You're right: there's a lot to be said for a clear writing style, Prashant, and this author certainly has that.

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  5. Love that detail about the After Eights - I had to google, of course, as I would have said 1970s. But 1962 - well spotted! That sort of thing irritates me in a book as it is easily fixed by editing, surely? ;-)

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    1. You would think. But you need someone with a proper eye for timelines, and I don't think most people have it. (which I guess means readers don't notice, so publishers think it's not of the highest importance.) I don't have many skills in life, so I am willing to put forward the one I have, which is that I am very very good at spotting things like that, and someone should pay me vast amounts of money to read MSs and spot the anachronisms.

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  6. The first time I read that I really liked it, but as you pointed out there are quite a lot of mistakes in it, I read it a few times more, initially still enjoying it, but then slowly becoming irritated until the final time when for some reason that I can't exactly put my finger on I couldn't bear it. I had to send it off to the charity shop.
    Usually if I warm to a book first go, I keep it for good and will never part with it. And I wanted to strangle her mother!

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    1. That's so funny! and yes, the mother was very irritating - necessary for plot purposes I suppose, but hard to take.

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  7. My list of books you have recommended is getting too long. Enough with the lists. I can't keep up:)

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    1. I'll try to do some lists of books you won't like....

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