A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay (♦♦♦½)

Forty-three years old Antoine Rey, divorced a year prior and still madly in love with his ex-wife Astrid, chooses to spend a weekend with his sister Mélanie to celebrate her upcoming fortieth birthday. They travel from Paris to Noirmoutier, an island they used to visit with their family when they were children.

The summer of 1973 was the last time Antoine and Mélanie visited Noirmoutier, a year prior to their mother’s death. Antoine and Mélanie remember very little of Clarisse, their mother, because their father remarried three years after becoming a widower and their new stepmother gradually erased any vestige of Clarisse’s existence. The children weren’t allowed to grieve properly, thus they spent years suppressing memories of their mother until late in life.

Antoine and Mélanie’s trip to Noirmoutier brought back strong memories of Clarisse. On the way back to Paris, Mélanie remembered something that made her lose control of their vehicle and they had an accident that nearly cost Mélanie her life. Months passed by until Mélanie recovered and conjured memories of what caused her to lose control of the wheel. She had distinctly remembered one night going to her mother’s room in the hotel in Noirmoutier and seeing her in bed with a stranger. Who was this person her mother was intimate with? But more importantly, who was Clarisse, the mother they hardly remembered?

Among Antoine’s reminiscing of how his own marriage to Astrid crumbled, the strained relationship he had with his father, who became withdrawn after Clarisse’s death, and Antoine’s difficult relationship with his three teenage children, the mystery of who Clarisse was and her passions and desires begin to emerge, as well as who her lover was and the rather obscure circumstances surrounding Clarisse’s death.

I liked this book, even more than my rating reflects. During the first fifty pages or so I found Antoine reminiscing too much about his failed marriage and about how lousy he felt and about how his life sucked, and so on, and I told myself that I was going to have very little patience with this book if the story didn’t improve. I am glad I gave the story some time to unfold because it unraveled the way presents’ wrappings do on Christmas morning. The mystery was engaging, and when tragedies began to happen so swiftly I began to wonder how the story would end. I’m glad it was an open ending and that Antoine had as much of a closure as could be achieved under the circumstances. I liked that Antoine found love, he was surrounded by loving friends, his communication with his teenage children improved and even his work was on the rise. The story ended on a positive note.

I knew of Tatiana de Rosnay thanks to Sarah’s Key, the book on which a movie about the holocaust in France is based and which I reviewed last year in this blog. I intend to read Sarah’s Key in the near future since I was quite taken with the movie and books tend to be more powerful than their screen adaptations. Next in my book queue is another Tatiana de Rosnay novel titled The House I Loved.