The Husband’s Secret

9780399159343_p0_v4_s260x420What if – you found a letter with instructions to open after the writer died, but that person was still alive – would you open it?  I would not be able to resist, and when Liane Moriarty teased with that cliffhanger through several chapters – about 200 pages – of The Husband’s Secret, keeping the contents hidden, the speculation of what is in that letter is as much fun as learning the actual content.  If you remember Moriarty’s What Alice Forgot, you know she can take an improbable storyline and drench it with humor, pathos, and even a few life lessons.

Three lives intersect in this drama: Cecilia finds her husband’s sealed “do-not-open-until-after-death” letter in a stack of old tax forms, while he is on a business trip; Tess flees from Melbourne to Sydney with her young son when she discovers her husband and best friend have fallen in love – and asked that they all live together as one big family; Rachel’s beloved two-year-old grandson is about to relocate with his family to New York City, as she continues to search for the murderer of her teen-age daughter, killed twenty years ago.  Yes, there is a murder, but the mystery of whodunit is solved early in the tale, with consequences and suspicions connecting these three women’s disparate lives.

The story premise is captivating – I read it quickly to know the outcome, and Moriarty does produce an unexpected surprise at the end.  After the shocking climax, the denouement offers more likely “what if” scenarios that have a nostalgic effect, but the clear message to be responsible for yourself, not everyone else, can connect to all of us who get tired of being good all the time.

Hard to categorize Moriarty’s style – more than chick lit, mystery thriller, romance, beach read – and always satisfying.  Now I’m looking for some of her earlier books – seems there are quite a few I’ve missed from her website.

Review of “What Alice Forgot”

Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O’Farrell

9780385349406_p0_v1_s260x420Family secrets are Maggie O’Farrell’s forte and her latest novel – Instructions for a Heatwave – combines her facility for everyday drama with shocking revelations. If you’ve read O’Farrell’s The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox or The Hand That First Held Mine, you know to raise your expectations for a surprising twist in the plot.

The heat in London is unbearable when Robert, a retired banker, decides to take a walk, but never returns, leaving behind his Irish chatterbox wife, three grown children, and a couple of grandkids. The story moves across London, Ireland, and New York City in 1976 – just before the electronic media made secrets archaic. As Aoife (pronounced ee-fa, the Irish “Eve”) returns from New York City to the London house to help her brother, Michael Francis, and sister, Monica, in the search for their father, Robert’s disappearance fades into the background as O’Farrell reveals the diverting background lives of each character. Everyone has a secret and no one is happy, except perhaps Gretta, the frantic mother who lives in denial. Michael Francis, the eldest son, is a frustrated Ph.D. wannabe who teaches history at a local grammar school and has recently had a one-night stand with a fellow teacher; Monica, divorced from the love of her life, cannot seem to assimilate into her second marriage with her new husband and his young daughters; Aoife, hides her dyslexia from everyone, including Gabe, her new lover, who sends her love notes she cannot decipher. Gretta has an irrational penchant for cleaning out shelves when stressed, and cannot seem to stop talking or giving unwanted advice.

After finding check stubs that date back fifteen years, the family takes the ferry to Cork, Ireland, in search of their father. Of course, there is another woman, but not in the way you may expect; the checks are sent to a convent. As Gretta reveals the mystery, the truth jolts the family – first into further chaos but eventually into redemption with an ending that renews faith in the ability of loved ones to come through for each other when needed. The family rallies and survives, but Robert is another story. He appears in the beginning and in the end, only as a phantom catalyst. I wonder what a good book group would conclude about his future – O’Farrell leaves it open.

I liked the way Maggie O’Farrell can take dramatic incidents and weave them into meaningful moments that connected to me. When she described Aoife breathing in the scents of her parents’ bedroom, it brought back the first time I returned to my childhood home after my father died, and anyone who has siblings will recognize the pride within the rivalry, the understanding and the annoyance. O’Farrell’s stories are dramatically intricate, and if you are looking for neatness and straight story lines O’Farrell cannot deliver. After all, family relationships are messy.

Related Review: The Hand That First Held Mine

A Secret Kept

Is a secret ever a secret if more than one person knows? Years after their mother’s death, Melanie and Antoine Rey revisit the site of their family’s annual summer beach vacations.

On the way home to Paris, Melanie remembers the secret that she has repressed since she was six years old, and has a car accident that is almost fatal. As Melanie recovers in the hospital, her memory of her mother’s secret gone again, Antoine meets the sexy mortician, Angelique, who becomes his savior.

De Rosnay treats you to an insider’s view of Paris as Antoine returns to his life as a recently divorced architect, with his own repression issues. The drama plays out among Les Invalides and the Left Bank.

She gives clear clues about the nature of “The Secret Kept ” early in the book through Clarisse’s letters – so the shock factor has less of an impact when she spells it out later. And the story continues with surprises, even after the secret is exposed.

More of a story about family relationships than skeletons in the closet, “A Secret Kept” has a subtle but haunting impact.

I won’t be a spoiler and tell you about the tantalizing revelations, just in case you don’t catch those clues and want to be surprised. Like Agatha Christie, de Rosnay summarizes and offers closure in the last chapters, but her ending is much more than a mystery solved – more a statement of life, death, and hope.

I haven’t read de Rosnay’s first book, “Sarah’s Key,” but now I might.