Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

Secret by Philippe Grimbert

I am delighted to be reviewing this glorious book from the Portobello imprint. Secret by Philippe Grimbert is very short. In fact the plot itself could be condensed into a few lines. And here’s where I stumbled upon a reviewing problem and for the first time ever Googled other reviews of a book. I wanted to know how others had tackled the issue of condensing the plot of such a short and in some ways very simple tale. And I was delighted to discover I wasn’t the only one who had trouble summarising the rawness, tragedy and atmosphere of such a simple complex novel. So I’m going to cop-out too. If I just say that the author of this semi-autobiographical story was born in Paris in 1948 and his family surname had been changed from Grinberg to Grimbert you’ll get the idea.

But this is only really the setting of the book, the main theme brilliantly exposed throughout, is family secrets and the effect they have on everyone concerned. As the main character, Philippe himself as a boy, explores the hidden past of his family, there is expertly shown the consequences of hiding the facts, of not being honest and of trying to bury the truth.

When I say this book is semi-autobiographical I mean that most of the issues explored in the novel happened before the authors’ birth and were details he either discovered third hand or used his knowledge of the characters (his parents) to bring to life. There are two tragedies in this book, the one that unravels as the author uncovers the secrets of the past and the one that ends the book, and I believe the two are inexorably linked. As the secrets were revealed to me I found myself not only turning pages to discover the hidden history but I was also sucked in emotionally. I had become part of the book, this story, this life and until it was over I couldn’t get out.

Secret can be read in an afternoon. So get a flask of tea, a packet of chocolate Hob Nobs (or your own particular favourite) and a hot water bottle. And I assure you, you will know it was an afternoon well spent.

Portobello Books, 2008, paperback, 160 pp., ISBN: 1846270448

About Eve Harvey

Eve Harvey is a bookaholic. She is forever to be found with her nose in a book. If there are none around then newspapers, magazines, the back of cereal packets, road signs or the tiny washing labels found on the seams of jumpers will do. Eve has a full time job as a children's bookseller. She was, in fact, the very first Waterstone's Children's Expert Bookseller in Scotland. Her first love then really has to be literature for children and teens, although she has been known to read grown-up books (not very often though - they didn't put in enough hours when they invented days). She especially loves to find brand new authors and is always on the lookout for a stunning début... Eve lives in a field just outside Edinburgh in Scotland with her daughter and son and two dogs and two rabbits. She also has some tanks of tropical fish and vows one day to start up a marine aquarium. And the day she signs her very first publishing deal she is going to celebrate by buying a pair of Horsefields tortoises. You can find Eve through her Agent, Ella Kahn at DKW Literary Agency. She's also on Twitter or on her website : EveHarvey.com

9 comments on “Secret by Philippe Grimbert

  1. Emily
    January 8, 2008

    Thanks for this, Eve, I’m going to recommend it to my mum’s book group.

  2. Stewart
    January 8, 2008

    I’ve picked this up and put it down so many times whilst browsing Waterstones. Look’s like the next time I put it down it will have been read. Thanks.

  3. sequinonsea
    January 8, 2008

    Intriguing review of Secret, Eve. Love the sound of this: “As the secrets were revealed to me I found myself not only turning pages to discover the hidden history but I was also sucked in emotionally.”

    Have heard so many good things about Portobello. Must investigate their website. This book sounds like something my mum would love too.

  4. Jackie
    January 8, 2008

    I like how you reviewed the book without giving away anything of the secrets, yet weren’t coy. That must’ve been difficult to write as a review, but you’ve managed to make us extremly curious, especially when you describe the spell the book cast over you “..until it was over, I couldn’t get out”. What a compliment to the author!
    You’ve created an atmosphere, not ony of the book itself, but the perfect setting in which to read it.

  5. rosyb
    January 9, 2008

    You know, the trouble with this site is I start thinking hmmm I’d like to read that. And then I think I can’t because I have to be reading something reviewable – for this site!

    I really like the sound of this one and the fact it’s short may mean it’s just possible. (Considering I read at the pace of a elderly snail.)

  6. Mhairi
    January 10, 2008

    What a very intriguing review …

  7. Stewart
    January 12, 2008

    I picked it up today, after all. Let’s see how it goes.

  8. Eve
    January 12, 2008

    Oh well done! Now – tea, biscuits, hot water bottle…. enjoy!

  9. Stewart
    January 13, 2008

    And enjoy it I did. Review here. Strangely not at all what I was expecting.

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  • (The header image is from Aesop's Fables, illustrated by Francis Barlow (1666), and appears courtesy of the Digital and Multimedia Center at the Michigan State University Libraries.)
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