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The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice


I picked up this novel because one of my favourite authors EVER, Elizabeth Wein, gave it an excellent review on Goodreads. I had absolutely no idea what it was, except that there were comparisons to Dodie Smith’s “I Capture the Castle” which I vaguely remember reading and enjoying. I found this gem on the fifth page — the main character, Penelope (who has a brother named Inigo!), talking about another girl she had just met: “She was the sort of person one reads about in novels yet raraely meets in real life, and if this was the beginning of the novel — well! (5)”

Penelope is the tall, plain daughter of a father killed in the war, and a beautiful young mother just seventeen years older than herself. Her chance encounter and subsequent friendship with the charming and outgoing Charlotte brings excitement to her life that has been absent — living in the giant old estate called Milton Magna Hall, a crumbling old mansion, is a rather dull existence, broken up only by her mother’s alternating moods of guilt and emotion, extravagance and spending. Penelope also becomes acquainted with Charlotte’s brother, Harry, who is infatuated with an American woman, Marina; he eventually hatches a plot to win her by convincing Penelope to serve as a foil.

I began this book with great hopes, and went merrily along for about half the book, at which point I started to feel disillusioned with the characters; with Penelope and Charlotte’s gushing over the popular singer Johnnie Ray, with her mother’s whims and emotions, and even with the seeming smallness of things that bothered Penelope, especially in contrast to the larger problems around her. While I was intrigued by the idea of American popular music taking the fancy of young English girls (as in a counter wave to the “British Invasion”), as the novel wrapped up, everything came together a la Daphne du Maurier, and I was left more than a wee bit disappointed, despite the charm and witty prose of the narrator.

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