September 2010

A brother and sister revisit their painful past

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Sibling rivalry, the bane of many a family, never reared its ugly head for brother and sister Antoine and Melanie Rey. Tethered together by a childhood tragedy, this loyal pair remain the best of friends as they head bravely, albeit begrudgingly, towards middle age. But the companionable camaraderie enjoyed by Antoine and Melanie in Tatiana de Rosnay’s latest novel, A Secret Kept, is torn asunder when brother and sister are haunted by resurrected childhood memories, with one sibling longing desperately to remember, and the other, determined to forget.

De Rosnay’s novel, her follow-up to the 2007 bestseller Sarah’s Key, begins innocently enough with Antoine planning a surprise 40th birthday weekend for Melanie at Noirmoutier Island, where the brother and sister vacationed during many joyful summers before their mother’s tragic and untimely death. Still devastated and demoralized by his recent divorce, Antoine is eager to escape Paris and the depressing detritus of middle age, in particular, a pair of rebellious, sullen teenage children, irrational clients and an ex-wife for whom he still stubbornly holds a torch.

“They had always done things together,” writes de Rosnay. Made decisions together. Faced the enemy together. That was over. Antoine was on his own now. And when Friday night came around and he heard his children’s key in the lock, he had to brace himself, to square his shoulders like a soldier going into battle.”

Antoine’s grief over the dissolution of his marriage and fledgling attempts at single parenthood are the most poignant portions of A Secret Kept. Though at times Proustian—Antoine has never recovered from his beloved mother’s death, and bitterly resents his father for surviving into old age—de Rosnay makes no mention of madeleines, but serves up plenty of Freudian intrigue. To be sure, Antoine’s louche sexual escapades (he enjoys a steamy hookup with a new girlfriend, seemingly unperturbed by the fact that his visiting teenage children are in the next room) ultimately prove cathartic, restoring his dignity and passion, and spurring him on to finally learn the truth about his mother’s life—and death. Though Melanie never evolves beyond the beautiful, dutiful daughter in denial, de Rosnay has crafted a compelling, heartrending tale. This enchanting hybrid of a mystery/love story is certain to keep her readers hungrily turning pages in the middle of the night.

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