[Review] A Secret Kept by Tatiana de Rosnay

Title: A Secret Kept
Author: Tatiana de Rosnay
Page: 371 pages
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Subject: Family Secrets, Brothers and Sisters, Noirmoutier Island (France), Psychological Fiction
First Published: 2010

Antoine thought he had the perfect surprise for his sister Mélanie’s birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. But the island’s haunting beauty triggers more than happy memories; it reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and deeply disturbing about their last island summer. When, on the drive home to Paris, she finally summons the courage to reveal what she knows to Antoine, her emotions overcome her and she loses control of the car.

Alone, waiting for news of Mélanie, Antoine reflects on his life: his wife has left him, his teenage children are strangers to him, his job bores him, and his father is an ageing tyrant who still poisons every aspect of his life. How did he end up here? And, more importantly, what was the secret that his sister wanted to tell him?

- Synopsis from back cover

Ever since reading Sarah’s Key (review here) earlier this year, I have been looking forward to the paperback version of A Secret Kept at my local bookstore. The hardcover version, unfortunately is ridiculously expensive!

In this novel de Rosnay departs from the wartime theme but brings back the scenes of panoramic France that I come to love but could only imagine. The author did a good job in setting up the scenes of Noirmoutier Island and the description of the Passage du Gois – a long tidal causeway that connects mainland France to the island which flooded twice a day by the high tide. Isn’t it incredible? Hard to imagine but I would like to see it for myself.

The character dimensions are wide-ranging and disparate. We have the 40-year-old Mélanie who defies the conventions of women her age (career woman, never been married) and Antoine, her 43-year-old brother and the narrator of the story who after a devastating divorce, questions every aspects of his life (relationship, family, children, job). We have the tyrannical father who never really close to his son, Astrid the ex-wife and of course the mysterious Clarisse, Mélanie and Antoine’s mother they never really knew because she died when they were still small, whose secrets they were trying to uncover 30-something years later.

The title promises dark family secret and mystery but I was disappointed when it turned out to be a story about Antoine’s mid-life crisis, which page by page became the character I disliked. I despised his sexual encounter with the young, beautiful and carefree mortician – who by the way already have a boyfriend – that made me hate it more because it sort of cheapens the story.

The mystery did not really have that much impact and was laid out rather too conveniently at the end. I would have enjoyed it more if the story was more about the pursuit of uncovering this dark secret, the secret that was supposed to be so disturbing to have caused the accident.