Published: 18th July 2005
Genre: Historical, YA
Recommended Reading Age: 16+
‘Set in the 1950’s, in an England still recovering from the Second World War, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is the enchanting story of Penelope Wallace and her eccentric family at the start of the second rock ‘n’ roll era.
Penelope longs to be grown-up and to fall in love; but various rather inconvenient things keep getting in her way. Like her mother, a stunning but petulant beauty widowed at a tragically early age, her younger brother, Inigo, currently capable of concentrating on anything that isn’t Elvis Presley, a vast but crumbling ancestral home, a severe shortage of cash, and her best friend Charlotte’s sardonic cousin Harry…’
My copy of this book has been re-read so many times it is falling apart. For those of you who are familiar with ‘I Capture the Castle’, another favourite of mine, this book has a very similar feel and atmosphere.
It’s a charming, fairly quiet, story full of wonderful, eccentric characters. I love period novels, and this one has a great vintage feel. Penelope is such a lovely character – it doesn’t matter that the novel takes place 60 odd years ago, she’s a young girl readers can completely relate to. Desperate to be seen as a sophisticated, beautiful woman, yet secretly wishing for her childhood, trying to find her place in a world that is only just coming out of rationing and ready to fall in love for the first time. She is an average, slightly prim girl but utterly likeable and unintentionally funny (pretending to enjoy great works of art and literature when really she’d rather be out dancing and swooning over Johnnie Ray). You can’t help but fall in love with her.
Penelope’s life changes forever after a chance encounter with the fun, vivacious, Charlotte, who upon meeting her in a bus stop, immediately invites her to share a taxi with her, swap coats and come to tea at Aunt Clare’s. (I must take a moment here to point out how much Aunt Clare made my laugh. I can only hope one day to be exactly like her.)
‘I don’t really know many boys . Well, my brother has his school friends, I suppose, but they seem awfully young and silly to me.’
‘How lovely to have a younger brother with pretty friends,’ sighed Charlotte. And how lovely they would think her, I thought.
‘Very useful for tennis,’ remarked Aunt Clare.
~ page 25
All the characters in this book are equally delightful and well-rounded. One of the things I love most about this book is how everyone feels so real. No one is perfect or unbelievably good-looking. Just normal, flawed people with hopes, fears and dreams. Penelope is no stunning beauty but comes into her own throughout the book. Charlotte’s attractiveness lies in her very character – someone who delights in life. These are ordinary girls having every day adventures and you can’t help but wish you were right alongside them for the journey.
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is a wonderfully crafted story, in a way that feels realistic, but never dull. Penelope is persuaded to be the pretend girlfriend of Harry, Charlotte’s cousin, who is depressed that the woman he loves is marrying another man. The idea being to make her jealous in the hopes of winning her back. Cue some amusing and touching scenarios. Full of heart, you won’t find any grand declarations but instead some highly charged scenes that you will have you reading them again and again. The ending is moving and brilliantly written. There will always be a special place for Penelope, Charlotte, Harry, Aunt Clare, Rocky, Marina, Talitha, Inigo and Julian the Loaf in my affections.
It’s just so deliciously random. And quintessentially English. I want to be best friends with Charlotte. I want to drink cocktails and dance the night away at the Ritz, curl up with a book and a gramophone at Magna, and take a picnic in the Long Gallery. This book never fails to make me smile. I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite quotes. As for me, I’m off to tea at Aunt Clare’s.
Aunt Clare was married to a very smart man called Samuel Delancy until three years ago. One of those fearfully good-looking but very mean types. Anyway, he was killed by a falling bookcase.’
‘Yes, really, it just collapsed on his head as he sat reading On the Origin of Species – very ironic my mother kept saying.
Did you think him very handsome?’ Charlotte asked her. Aunt Clare paused before answering. ‘I wouldn’t say that he was handsome the usual way,’ she admitted. ‘He was too rare for that, too unusual-looking with that strange colouring and those long eyelashes. Goodness me, Charlotte,’ she went on, much her old self again, ‘who on earth ever fell in love with anyone who looked handsome? What a ghastly bore handsome is.
~ page 396
Check out Ana’s review at Things Mean Alot
Rewind and Review is a feature created by GReads! where you review older books published before 2010.