Mary Roberts had been in love with her husband Thomas since she was five. Married for three years, the one thing that would make their family complete, and the one thing Mary wants more than anything, is a child. After stopping off at the station with Thomas to say goodbye as he sets off for his shift in the coal mines, she heads off to see the Doctor in the hope of finally getting the news they have been longing for. Little does she know how much the news she receives that day, and a decision she is yet to make, will affect the life of someone she truly cares about.
Following a fire at their pub, Selwyn and Trisha decide to organise a trip to Blackpool for their friends and family. When the minibus driver falls ill, it is left to Jerry to drive them, allowing the others the chance to have a few drinks. When something wholly unexpected happens, half of the group are brought together to vow to keep their secret. That night, two choices are made which will have far reaching consequences for all of the passengers.
Having just buried her mother, Beth has little time to grieve. She and husband Michael need to return to the hospital to be with their son Jake. He is seriously ill, in need of organ donation, and neither of them is a suitable donor. Beth has never known her father and her mother went to her grave giving her little information about who he was. She doesn’t know if her father is still alive, or if he has family, but Beth is determined to find out more about him as he could well hold the key to her son’s future. When Beth searches through her mother’s belongings for answers, she finds a mysterious letter and a newspaper clipping, both of which lead her to realise that the answer to her problem may be closer to home than she realises.
‘The Secret’ is set across three different periods of history. The first chapters are dedicated to Mary and Thomas’s story. Is it a short and yet ultimately tragic section of the story and goes from great joy and hope to ultimate devastation in just a couple of chapters. We then move swiftly to Beth and Michael’s story, and that of their son Jake, whose story sets us up for the central section of the novel. Set in 1976, the majority of the action from about a third in is the telling of the fateful trip to Blackpool and the way in which is links Mary’s story through to that of Beth in the current day.
The characters in this story are all well developed. We don’t really have much time to get to know Mary and Thomas and yet we get a clear picture of how happy they are and how much in love, making what happens to them especially poignant. With Beth and Michael’s story, Kathryn Hughes has created two very sympathetic characters, being torn up by their son’s illness and yet being united in their desire to do anything to help. And as for the group from 1976, the bunch are as diverse as they come, but all add their own touch to the story. Babs and Daisy are the key characters for me and we follow both of their stories and their struggles quite closely. Both women are endearing in their own way, and both have a reserve on inner strength and generosity which you don’t see in many of the other characters from this period.
The section set in 1976 was ultimately inevitable. You knew from the newspaper clipping that Beth found just how the trip was going to end, and the surprise that Babs and Daisy got was not entirely unexpected, nor was it when the other outstanding question was answered by Babs and Selwyn’s daughter Lorraine. The clues were all there. However, there were two twists in the tale which I honestly didn’t compute and I was left with an oh-my-god moment when it finally dawned on me. It is clear how Beth is linked to the events of the past. What I didn’t even notice was the secondary link between past and present, it was so subtly done. And as for the final surprise – well I really was expecting it to have gone another way entirely so well done to the author.
The pace of the story was just right. It was not fast paced action, but the majority of the story took place and a leisurely day out in Blackpool. I wouldn’t expect it to be. The descriptions put me in mind of family days out and play scheme trips to the beach – the donkeys, the fish and chips and the ‘kiss-me-quick’ hats (although in my day it was ‘Damned Seagulls’ instead 😉 ). I read through this over two nights, with only work getting in my way and although I thought I knew where the story was heading, I still didn’t want to turn away. I wanted to know what happened to the characters and to see how they all lived with the consequences of the decisions they made on that fateful summer day.
‘The Secret’ is a tale of enduring love, husband to wife, parent to child, and the things that people will do to protect those they hold dear. There are some very touching moments, and elements where is it tinged with real sadness. I wasn’t sure quite how I felt when I finished reading it, having been moved in the first three chapters, worried through the next half dozen, frustrated through parts of the central section and finally slapping myself on the forehead at the end. But in honesty, this book made me think and I was still thinking rather than falling asleep some many hours after finishing it. The twists really did surprise me and the plots felt almost like standalone stories and yet were beautifully interwoven too. All threads are pulled together in one final heart-warming and optimistic conclusion.
A very warm and smiley 4 stars.
My thanks to NetGalley and publishers Headline for the copy of ‘The Secret’ by Kathryn Hughes in exchange for my review.
‘The Secret’ is released on 8th September and is available to order here: