“Perhaps you should think of going away, forgetting about him. That would be the most honorable thing.”
“Would it?” Jude said feebly, feeling her energy drain away. Should she just go back to London and leave Claire and Euan to it? That was one code of behavior. “All’s fair in love and war,” was another. But suppose she did get together with Euan, what would that do to her relationship with her sister, and with Summer?”
“A Place of Secrets” is a novel that has a dual story line; one set in contemporary times and another set in the mid-1700’s in England.
Judith Gower works in antiquities, discovering and tracking down old books and journals for an auction house. Called to investigate a collection up for sale, she discovers an ancient journal hidden in a secret hole in a cupboard of the library (not the first time this device is used in fiction!)
Jude (short for Judith), is having trouble moving on from her own past and losses. Although after four years, she is willing to engage in relationships again, she cannot seem to commit to anything permanent after losing her own husband to a tragic accident. Complicating her life is the fact that although she would like to be close with her only sister, Claire, in reality their relationship is marred by competition and doesn’t progress to the nurturing, sisterly one that Jude desires.
The author’s descriptive writing is tops:
“…as she climbed the darkness thickened and her skin prickled. She transferred her hands to the steps above and walked on all fours, like an animal, her sense of balance gone, so that every few steps she felt as though she was falling backward. She counted the stairs, nine, ten, eleven. They were comfortably deep, not too high. Fifteen, sixteen. she passed into a little patch of light from a window like an arrow hole…
The floor, like the rest of the folly, was brick. Wooden shelves and cupboards, some split and rotten, lined the walls. There were four small windows, spaced at equal distances around the room – one for each compass point, she thought – and a ladder in the middle that went up to what appeared to be a small trapdoor. Once perhaps, the windows had been glazed, but now they were open to the elements. Rays of sunlight poured in through one, and from the forest all around came an ecstasy of birdsong. Under the sunny window were a table and chair, both modern folding ones. Someone had been working there, for they’d left several sheets of paper and a reporter’s notebook.”
(Can’t you just picture this scene?)
I have to confess that I learned a lot while reading this book, and *one* thing I learned was, that I did not know what a folly was!
Folly: a whimsical or extravagant structure built to serve as a conversation piece, lend interest to a view, commemorate a person or event, etc.: found especially in England in the 18th century.
I also needed to look up orrery: an apparatus for representing the positions, motions, and phases of the planets, satellites, etc., in the solar system.
The author ties in astrology and scientific discovery, mystery, romance, gypsies, a bit of the supernatural, (some of it at the very least, unrealistic, but it fits the story, anyway!), lost children, family relationships and the grieving process (just to name a few), all within one book. Although not too complicated to read, it is a little long and perhaps could have been cut by twenty or thirty pages. But as a first-time-author-read for me, I found myself enjoying it and wanting to persevere just to see how the ending would be. Will Jude ever find out what happened to Esther, the young adopted girl who kept the journal? and what about the star necklace, to whom did it really belong, and how did it come to be in the possession of Esther? Who *was* Esther, anyway, and where did she come from?
“It was now jet black beyond the circle of the lamp, and more and more moths were crowding in, dropping on the sheet outside the box, or circling madly above the light… Euan called out name after name, and Jude scribbled them down, writing the foreign words phonetically if she didn’t know how to spell them.
By eleven o’clock she’d written down fifty-six species. By midnight they had one hundred ten.
“That’s incredible,” she said, when they’d counted them up.
“And there are different ones at different times of year,” he told her. “Since I arrived here I’ve found nearly five hundred species just in these woods.”
“I’d no idea there were so many.”
“There are twenty-seven hundred species in the UK,” he told her. “And only sixty-four kinds of butterfly.”
At times the book is almost “too” atmospheric, as the author attempts to create a suspenseful story, but as I thought about one particular scene, I realized that it is not too unlikely for a child to imagine she sees or hears another child beckoning to her in the woods.
If there is one novel that fits the term “multi-layered”, it is this one! And, I am not sure that I can even in one review, do this book justice as to the many layers of plots and personal, individual conflicts.
“It was wonderful to see this group of people together – her family, gradually sorting themselves out after the revelation of so many secrets.
In a flash she’d been made to see her mother in an entirely different light. Not just as the selfish, rather worldly woman who found mothering a nerve-racking, puzzling business and abrogated responsibility first to one husband and now to another, but a rather more vulnerable figure who had never properly found herself after an early tragedy.”
There are lots of secrets in this book! Claire keeps the secret of her child’s father from everyone else. Claire and Jude’s mother Valerie has a secret, as does Valerie’s mother (and Jude’s grandmother), Jessie.
“The prim way she sat with the bag on her lap was like one of those brave women in the 1940’s films who, after tragedy and disappointment, permed their hair, put on another layer of lipstick and got on with their lives. Keep up appearances. That was Valerie and she wasn’t going to change now. Jude felt a little rush of love for her. Valerie was brave in her own way. “You have to make the best of things,” she’d always said.”
In a note at the back of the book the author states that she had read about William Herschel and his sister Caroline, and their discovery of Uranus, the seventh planet in 1781. This was the catalyst for her novel.
“…I was interested not only by Caroline’s huge contribution to her brother’s work but in the fact that that at least one other astronomer before him (Herschel) had seen the bright object near Gemini, but had not known what it might be. Suppose others had, too, and suppose one of those others had been a woman… what is more, a woman of no name, whose origins were mysterious.”