When seeing The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets referred to as pastiche, I was wondering when historical fiction actually crosses the line. Was it because Eva Rice did not only write a novel set in the 50s but a novel that sounded very much like some of the books written in the 40s and 50s? I suppose so. I haven’t read Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle, but it seems obvious that there are similarities. Be it as it may, Eva Rice has written a truly charming book.
The story starts in medias res with our narrator, Penelope, an eighteen year-old girl and aspiring writer, being whisked off in a taxi by Charlotte. Charlotte is Penelope’s age, but more self-assured, more stylish, outspoken, and exuberant. Before this day the two girls have never met, but, as the novel will slowly unfold, there are more connections than they see at first.
Charlotte begs Penelope to come with her to tea at Aunt Clare’s and meet Harry, her cousin. A little later they are sitting in Aunt Clare’s messy sitting room, eating scones, drinking tea and Penelope falls under the charm of these three people. They are all eccentric, speak their mind and either say hilarious or almost outrageous things. While Penelope is rather shy, she starts to swim like a fish in water in this stimulating company. Their first afternoon together marks the beginning of a great story and a wonderful friendship.
While the early chapters introduce us to Charlotte’s world, the following will take us to Penelope’s home and introduce us to her mother and her younger brother and the house they live in – Milton Magna Hall, called Magna by its inhabitants. Penelope and her family live in this huge, medieval house in genteel poverty. Her father died in WWII. Her mother, a stunning beauty, who’s only 35 years old, is prone to sudden crying fits and utterly sensitive to everything. Her brother, Inigo, doesn’t care about anything else but pop music. Like Charlotte and Penelope he loves Johnnie Ray, but as soon as his uncle from America introduces him to a new singer, Elvis Presley, who is still unknown in the UK, he only cares for Elvis. Their house, Magna, is as much a character as the people. I love stories that center on big old houses. Magna is such a house but it never sounded beautiful.It sounded rather dreadful, a monstrosity really, and a trap for those living inside. It certainly was one big, money-sucking machine. Sure, it was grand, with its huge galleries and halls, but since they had no money, it was cold, draughty and damp. The furniture had seen better days. Visitors were impressed, but, as Charlotte remarked, they didn’t have to live there.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a s much a book about the beginning of pop music, youth culture, the young Brits’ infatuation with everything American, as it is about coming of age, the definite end of an era, and new times. It’s a love story and a story of new beginnings but, more than anything, it’s a story of friendship.
The novel moves between a few distinct places,—Aunt Clare’s sitting room, the huge mansion Magna, and public places like The Ritz, where they party and listen to their favourite music.
Some of the most wonderful episodes show the four young people together, drinking champagne and enjoying each others company. My favourite scene is almost surrealist. It features Penelope and Harry together in the huge large gallery at Magna, lying on their backs, drinking, talking, and watching Harry’s doves – he’s a magician – fly around the room.
Books like these are often bitter-sweet, but this one is more sweet than bitter— in spite of some tragedy towards the end—because there are so many opportunities and hope waiting for the characters.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a smart, charming, exuberant book, filled with witty, endearing and eccentric characters, whose sharp insights, clever repartee, and uncrushable optimism are a delight to follow. If you need some intelligent cheering up—this is the book for you.
33 thoughts on “Eva Rice: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (2005)”
Thank you for reminding me of a book I loved a long time ago – before I started blogging to help me remember a little better.
You’re welcome. It’s such a delight, isn’t it?
The title certainly is tantalizing–is there anything you’d feel like saying about that without giving away the plot?
One charcater is writing a memoir and I think that’s the title. Unbelievable . . . I’m not even sure yet but I think, yes that’s what it was.
I’ve heard of this but haven’t read it. Sounds lovely by your description.
It’s rather lovely. At first I was a bit scared it would be too fluffy but it’s just too charming.
Wonderful review, Caroline. I love the title of the book. I haven’t read Dodie Smith’s book yet, but Eva Rice’s book does seem to have some similar themes. I love stories where outwardly dissimilar characters discover that they have a very deep connection and I love that aspect of ‘The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets’. I loved your description of the book – “If you need some intelligent cheering up—this is the book for you.” 🙂 Adding it to my ‘TBR’ list.
Thanks, Vishy. I think you’ll like it. It will speak to the romantic in you. There’s a love story – more than one even – but they are all grounded in a very deep friendship. I hardyl ever read a bok with so many wonderful charcaters and so much sentiment. there are even animals in it, and even they are treated so nicely. I’m going to dig out I Capture the Castle soon. I know many people who loved this, loved it even more.
I will look forward to reading it soon, Caroline. Thanks for nudging me 🙂 Ah yes, ‘I Capture the Castle’ – I have been wanting to read it for years. I first heard about it from a friend who said that it is her alltime favourite book. It is there on the book pile nearest to me – I hope I will be able to read it soon.
I’m so tempted to start it right now but mabye too close together wouldn’t do any of them any favours. I know Danielle has read them both, so I’ll ask her when she visits.
I read this one with my old book group. It must have been a good 8 or 9 years ago so my memories of it are fuzzy now, but I recall enjoying it more than I thought I would. ‘Charming’ is a great description. You’re right to say it’s towards the sweeter end of the bittersweet spectrum too – sweeter than Elizabeth Taylor’s Mrs Palfrey (as far as I can recall).
I’m glad to hear you liked it as well. I was really not sure either but I just went along for the ride and enkyed it a great deal. Mrs Plafrey is not near as sweet. I think all of Elizabeth Taylor’s books are at the bitter end of bitter sweet. — Starts to sound like we’re talking about drops.
Hi Caroline, Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I love this review. Now I can’t wait to buy the book. Adding it to m TBR. Thank you again. 🙂
Thank you, Deepika, I’m glad you like the review. I hope you’ll enjoy the book.
Well, I loved I Capture the Castle, so I’d probably like this too. “Castle” was also charming without being too saccharine.
I guess it’s a pretty safe bet you’ll like this, then. I will read Dodie Smith soon.
THis one isn’t saccharine at all. Or just a tiny bit.
I’m currently reading an Elizabeth Taylor novel and this one sounds charming.
It has a bit of Elizabeth Taylor and of Barbara Pym, with younger charcaters.
I’m curious to see which Elizabeth Taylor you’re reading.
A Game of Hide and Seek. I’ve read a couple of her other titles also.
That’s the last one I read and review. Fantastic book.
Is a bit like Stella Gibbons?
I saw it compared to Szella Gibbons as well, yes. I haven’t read her yet but she’s on my piles.
ok, that’s who came to mind.
Great commentary as always Caroline.
I am very interested in the popular culture and the music of the time that this novel takes place. This sounds both fun and mentally stimulating.
Thank you, Brian. That’s exactly what it was – fund and stimulating. I loved that she chose Johnnie Ray as the girls’ obsession because it’s so interesting to think that he was so popular while Elvis was still a nobody. I’ve neever heard of Johnnie Ray before, while everyone knows Elvis.
It sounds like a lovely read, and I really enjoy odd characters. Intelligent cheering up. I like the way you phrased that.
Thanks, TBM. I think you would like it. It’s uplifting without being sugary.
I loved this book when I read it one or two years ago. You have reminded me that I should pick up Rice’s second novel as it is bound to be another comfort read (or so I am promised by other readers).
How nice to know you liked this too. I’d love to read more of her as well.
I LOVED this book. I am going to reread it at some point–it is the perfect comfort read for me–smart and entertaining. I have her newer book, too, as yet unread, but waiting, too, for the right moment!!
I was not sure at first whether it woudn’t bee too sweet for me but it wasn’t. It has the right amount of everything. Such a lovely book. I’m afarid I won’t like another of her books as much.
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