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.
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