Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Secret Keeping for Beginners by Maggie Alderson (2015)

Secret Keeping for Beginners centres around three sisters: Tessa, Rachel and Natasha. Rachel has just divorced her husband and is juggling a new job in a fantastic PR firm with running and paying for a London household for her, her two children and the manny, Banko. Tessa and her husband Tom own a successful salvage yard and were happy in the country with their three boys until Tom was discovered by television and now hosts his own successful TV show. Natasha is a hugely successful make-up artist who travels the world making up supermodels and high fashion shows. All three women are beautiful, fabulously talented and have heaps of Instagram followers and all of them are in someway at breaking point in their lives.

The central conceit of the book is that despite their closeness, the sisters are keeping big secrets from each other. Rachel is in dire financial straits and is struggling to even find enough money for food. Tessa is incredibly depressed and is withdrawing further and further into her own private world. Natasha is refusing to reveal her sexual identify for fear it will damage her in her business, and the double life she lives creates a barrier between her and her sisters. So far, so good (although I did find hard to believe that Natasha wouldn't talk to her sisters about her sexuality - I can understand not talking about it at work (although of course one should not have to hide any part of one's sexuality for work, which is why there are discrimination laws in place), but not her sisters? I did not buy it). However, it gets more complicated. It turns out that Rachel's boss, Simon, had a brief fling with Tessa  before she was married and he's in love with Rachel and his business is experiencing financial stress and he's carrying around a big secret that he refuses to tell anyone until 10 pages before the end. The mother of the girls, Joy, has been receiving mysterious letters addressed to the person she was before she changed her name at 16 that she refuses to open. Plus Banko is hiding his secret crossdressing from Rachel and then lies about wanting to be a fashion model.

THAT'S TOO MANY SECRETS. Seriously, about seven of these could have been cut and it would have made not one whit of difference. I understand secrets are the theme of the book but there was no need to create a "secrets are the theme of the book" stick and start whacking your readers over the head with it. Joy's secret was frankly stupid and completely unnecessary. Giving Simon four secrets was massive overkill. That said, Alderson writes really well, so the book was lovely to read. There were moments of genuine humour and the relationships between the sisters was lovingly depicted. So, how do I rate this book? Using the patented HereIRead Book Evaluator Tool (TM):

Including LGBT characters not defined by their sexuality
Good depiction of relationship between sisters
Enjoyably written

Too much unnecessary plot
Used the annoying trope of a smug wise elderly woman who gives out excellent advice
Alderson cannot write from the point-of-view of a man and should never ever try again. Simon's sections were cringe-worthy
The entire character of Tessa

A book that should only be borrowed from the library but is nice easy reading: three stars.

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