Tatiana de Rosnay

A Secret Kept

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A Secret Kept Summary

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A Secret Kept is a historical novel by Tatiana de Rosnay. Published in 2009 by St Martin’s Press, the book tells the story of a simple seaside vacation which results in a brother and sister questioning everything they’ve ever known about their family. De Rosnay’s debut, Sarah’s Key, received an impressive critical response, however, A Secret Kept generated mixed reviews. De Rosnay is a prolific writer with eight published novels, and she lives in Paris with her family. A Parisian native, de Rosnay’s works evoke a charming sense of place and French culture.

The central characters are siblings, Antoine and Melanie Rey. Although they’re nearing middle age, they’ve always been very close friends. After a tragedy during their earlier years, the untimely and accidental death of their mother, Clarisse, they’ve always relied on each other for support. However, one of them wants to remember what happened years ago and start dealing with it, and the other wants to pretend nothing ever happened.

As the book opens, there’s been an accident, and the siblings are in the hospital. Antoine thinks back to what happened, and how they ended up in the car collision in the first place.

Antoine is planning a weekend away for himself and Melanie. Her fortieth birthday is coming up soon, and he wants it to be special. He’s booking a surprise trip to Noirmoutier Island, where they spent many summers together. However, this is also where Clarisse died, so it may stir up unwelcome memories of that fateful vacation.

Antoine has a lot of problems at home, so he’s determined to get away. He’s an architect, but he hates his job. He’s still in love with his ex-wife who left him, and he’s struggling to control his teenage children. He feels he’s failed in life somehow and that he hasn’t accomplished what he hoped to. His father, Francois, who’s still alive, is cold and aloof, offering him no support. This trip is as much for him as it is for Melanie.

Melanie, meanwhile, has her own issues. She’s unmarried, has no children, and seemingly no direction in life. She works as an editor, but it doesn’t fulfill her. She distracts herself from her unhappiness by having an affair with a man in his sixties, who’s married and looking for something new and exciting. She’s not thrilled at the idea of going to Noirmoutier Island, but she knows it will do them both some good to get away for a while. What Melanie doesn’t realize is that Antoine wants to start exploring the family past.

At the end of their holiday, he talks about their childhood and things that concerned him as a boy, while Melanie is driving. Melanie remembers something odd, and the distraction causes a road collision. She’s seriously injured, and Antoine blames himself, which takes us back to the opening of the novel.

The narrative then moves to what happened during their holiday, before the collision. At first, they’re enjoying their holiday, although they’re saddened to see it’s turned into such a busy, touristy resort. They go around together looking at old landmarks and the beach. The beach brings back memories of what happened to their mother, dampening their mood somewhat. They start talking about everything they don’t like about their own lives and how despondent they are about middle age.

De Rosnay plants interludes through the narrative, at landmarks that were important to their mother. These interludes are told from her perspective; they allude to a secret lover she had for many years. While her children seem bored and depressed by their “boring” lives, Clarisse led a colorful and mysterious life they knew nothing about.

Back at the hospital, Antoine must phone his father to inform him what’s happened to Melanie. This conversation depresses Antoine because it reminds him how cold, unfeeling, and difficult Francois is. Antoine resents how quickly and easily he moved on to another woman, and the strict, merciless upbringing he had as a result. However, he’s surprised by how emotional his father is when he comes to visit Melanie in the hospital.

This changed attitude makes him call his ex-wife to tell her about the accident; she comes to the hospital with the children. He finds it hard to disguise that he’s still in love with her, but he knows there’s no hope of reconciliation. Instead, he’s drawn to a hospital worker, Angele. She’s rebellious and dangerous, and he shares a passionate encounter with her.

Melanie finally comes around and remembers what she and Antoine were talking about before the accident. She recalls seeing their mother in bed with another woman, and it makes them wonder if their mother was ever happy in the marriage. It’s revealed that their grandmother, Blanche, had a fight with Clarisse about the affair, and that’s how she fell and died. Blanche made up the story about an “aneurysm” to hide it all.

Antoine and Melanie are shell-shocked, but they don’t see the point in digging up any more of the past. The final shock comes when they discover Francois has terminal cancer and that he became cold and aloof after Clarisse’s death because he was heartbroken about the affair. We are left to wonder if the family will make amends before Francois passes away.