Review: The Book of Secrets

Posted 28 June, 2013 by Lianne in Books / 2 Comments

The Book of Secrets
By: Elizabeth Joy Arnold
Format: galley courtesy of Random House Publishing Group via NetGalley

Chloe Tyler’s life changed at the young age of eight when she became friends with the Sinclair children. Through some of the most cherished books of all time, Chloe, along with Nate, Cecilia and Grace, found a magical escape from their troubled childhoods. They acted out The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (wondering all the while how Turkish Delights really tasted), admired the sketches of the hookah-smoking caterpillar and the Cheshire cat’s grin in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, and plotted their escape alongside Robinson Crusoe. As they grew up, they set up camp fires a la Lord of the Flies and found secret hiding places for their well-worn copy of Catcher in the Rye and A Wrinkle in Time. Nate and Chloe’s friendship blossoms into an intense romance in their teens, where a tragic event will change the course of their relationship. It isn’t until they have been married for twenty-five years that they must finally come to terms with the past that they have turned their back on for so long and their failing bookstore that they once so loved.

I’ve always enjoyed a good book about books (i.e. Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind, John Connelly’s The Book of Lost Things) so I was immediately intrigued by the premise of this novel. I was fortunate to have been approved of a galley copy of this novel through the publishers. This book will be available on July 2nd. Contains some spoilers ahead!

Oh, the Sinclairs. I stayed up until 5 in the morning finishing this book: I just had to know what was really going on. I found myself shaking my head at times and wondering out loud, “What is really going on here?” The Book of Secrets had me wondering, with secrets and questions building up the deeper I went along in the story and a clearer picture eventually emerging. Everything is not what it seems in this novel: nothing is simple and the complications are not only intriguing but also quite human. Sometimes I felt just as frustrated as Chloe as we follow her attempts at figuring out what was going on with Nate, what was really going on with the Sinclairs. They are a secretive family and after knowing them for 20+ years, it’s still hard for her to find the chinks in the armour and break into that inner circle.

But taking a step back, The Book of Secrets in a way is reminiscent of Jeffrey Eugenides’ The Virgin Suicides because of the way that the Sinclair family operated: what exactly went on behind those closed doors, inside that perfect house? One minute you think one thing, the next minute one of the character would do something that would disprove that idea. The only way the reader can find out exactly what’s going on is by piecing together the pieces through Chloe and Nate’s memories. For example, what is Joel Sinclair all about? Is he a fanatic? Authoritarian? An abusive father? The psychological effects on his children are clear and yet there’s something about the whole situation that remains vague and complicated thanks to their reactions.

Chloe and Nate’s relationship is also more than it seems: because it’s fraught with more secrets than I initially thought, it’s a lot more fragile. I’m honestly a bit surprised that their marriage survived as long as it did; a different, more unresolved couple I think would not have stayed together for as long as they did. Not that of course they did not have their own problems, problems that will continue to be addressed long after the last page, but I like that it was addressed and that they are resolved on some level to work on it. It’s a nice change of pace from novels where the couples just break it off and end up with new people.

I was surprised that the role of books was not as prominent as I thought it would be. Books were mentioned early in the novel since Chloe and Nate owned a bookstore and worked as a sort of entry point of their story. Books were used as a way to connect Chloe to the Sinclairs and an escape for the Sinclairs when things were getting really bad. Sometimes the books mentioned and read reflected the situation the character was in at that point of their life. But otherwise it is not as prominent a theme or motif as other novels out there that contains books as a major element.

The Book of Secrets is a riveting and fascinating story. It is a lot darker than I expected it to be. Plot-wise I sort of figured out what really happened around 2/3rds into the novel but the process of reading and finding out whether my suspicions were correct was part of the experience. I recommend this novel to bibliophiles and readers who love to read an intriguing family drama.

Rating: ★★★★☆

Visit the author’s official website || Order this book from the Book Depository

Tags: , , , , ,

2 Responses to “Review: The Book of Secrets”

  1. Good review, Lianne. On the one hand, the parts about their childhood relationship with books pique my interest. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of reading about family secrets (except of the magical variety) and marriages in trouble, though at least it sounds like this couple tries to work things through. I’m putting it on my eh-maybe-someday list for that reason. As in “maybe someday” I’ll be in the right mood for it.

    • Yeah, I imagine you’d have to be in the right mood to read this especially, as I recall, the twists and turns as to what’s going on in this family is quite fraught. The bookish bits were interesting, as I recall 🙂

Leave a Reply