This book, by the author of Sarah’s Key, also takes place in Paris and also has two time lines—the present and the past—but that’s where the similiarities between the two books end. A Secret Kept is the story of a shattered French family, told from the standpoint of the adult son Antoine, who is going through a mid-life crisis, looking back at his past and trying to make sense of it. He is an apparently successful architect who has lost his creative thirst; he has lost his wife to a younger man and he has lost his beloved children to the emotional chasm that marks the teen years. He lives in a depressing apartment, still yearns for the ex-wife he can’t have, and has trouble finding reasons to get up in the morning.
Antoine’s decision to treat his sister to a visit to their childhood vacation spot for her fortieth birthday is a turning point, for the visit sparks a flood of memories for Antoine and Melanie, but in Melanie’s case, it revives a repressed memory which triggers shock and a near-fatal car crash. As she recovers from a broken back, Melanie also recovers the memory, and it concerns their beloved mother who had died of a cerebral aneurysm when they were just children. Following their mother’s death, their father had retreated into a cold and distant shell and Antoine especially lost any connection to his father from that point to the present.
Death is a constant theme in this book. Not just the mother whose death was so traumatic, but seemingly everywhere Antoine looks. Even the sexy and feisty woman with whom Antoine enters into a passionate fling turns out to be a mortician. As the secret about Antoine and Melanie’s mother is slowly unveiled, so the dysfunction of their family begins to make more sense. There is no single dramatic reveal in “A Secret Kept,” but rather a series of secrets which come to light and whose exposure ultimately bring a kind of peace to Antoine.
What I find notable about this book is, first, that it is familiar in the sense that all families have their “secrets” which can shape and define the lives of family members , sometimes over many generations. While some reviewers were upset by the quiet ending to the book, I found it utterly realistic. I was of two minds about Antoine’s introspection which makes up the entirety of the book. As often as it illuminates the story and accurately conveys Antoine’s mindset, it is also depressing at times, wordy to the point of boring on occasion, and has more than a hint of melodrama in it. Perhaps not as powerful a story as Sarah’s Key, nonetheless A Secret Kept is an honest portrayal of psychological trauma and of finding the strength to survive it.