Review: The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, Eva Rice

There is nothing quite as cleansing as finally reading a book that’s been on your TBR list for untold ages. Ana of Things Mean a Lot reviewed it in 2012, which is on the outer edge of how long I’ll let a book linger on my TBR spreadsheet. If I’ve let it go for five years without reading it, I have to accept that I didn’t truly want to read it in the first place.1 Alice from Of Books reminded me more recently why I wanted to read it, so thanks to both of you, lovely blogging friends!

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

As Ana and Alice both mention in their posts, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets recalls almost irresistibly I Capture the Castle, a comparison of which I had absolutely no recollection when I started reading. And perhaps it’s best that I didn’t; comparing a new book to one of the twentieth century’s great works of fiction is hardly a recipe for success. Please forget I said that. Except don’t, because I want you to read this book. Except do, because I don’t want to get your expectations too high.

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is about a girl called Penelope who lives in a ramshackle old manor house called Milton Magna in postwar England. She rattles around her old manor house with her younger brother Inigo, who dreams of being a pop star, and her beautiful, widowed mother, married at seventeen and widowed in the Second World War. As Penelope is waiting tidily at the train station, a total stranger swoops in and carries her off to have tea with her family, and Penelope’s life changes entirely. In a manner that is not entirely unlike, yet not so much like that it should raise your expectations in a significant way, the events of I Capture the Castle.

I can at least say that without specifically remembering the I Capture the Castle comparison,2 I was immediately charmed by The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets. Penelope spends a great deal of time thinking about romantic love; but the fundamental relationships in the book are between Penelope and Charlotte and, to a lesser extent, Penelope and her maddening, dramatic, married-too-young mother. The book was a frothy delight from the first page, and if it’s not exactly up to the standard set by I Capture the Castle, it’s at least along the lines of a lesser Dodie Smith book or an ungrim Maggie O’Farrell novel. If that’s something you need (in this grim dystopian hellscape), go forth and read it with my blessing.

(Note that I had to bust out the old “Sparkly Snuggle Hearts” category for this book. That is an exact description of how I felt about it.)

  1. The oldest book currently on there dates to December 2013.
  2. So you should forget it too! Forget it at once!
  • StuckinaBook

    Oh my actual lord, I’ve read a book you’re reviewing! And I love it too. Sheer madcap delight. PLEASE, before you forget any of the details, hunt out her next book The Misinterpretation of Tara Jupp. Not just because it’s lovely but because some of these characters popped up briefly, and by the time I read it I’d more or less forgotten who they were.

    There’s only one thing I’d mention about your review – I hope you don’t mind gentle criticism – but you overlooked the similarities between this book and one you might have read – I Capture The Castle.

  • I agree that “There is nothing quite as cleansing as finally reading a book that’s been on your TBR list for untold ages.” It makes one feel so accomplished, somehow!

  • Haha! I’m glad my review helped encourage you to read it. I’ve actually forgotten most of what happened now, this review has been a pleasant reminder.

  • Interesting about your TBR time limit – I don’t think I have one, but maybe if I used a spreadsheet I might? (I use bookmarks – originally on del.icio.us, until it went downhill, and now on pinboard.in. As it turns out, I added this book to my TBR after a post by Carol Wallace at Book Group of One in, um, 2010, and I have still not read it. Maybe I should? She recommended it specifically as good airplane reading.)

  • Jeanne

    I think I need this book; worries about politics have started seeping back into my dreams. I’ll have to wait until after this weekend, though, because all the happy families getting together for dinner on Sunday is also making me feel like burying my head in the sand, and this sounds like it has a close family and then possibly one of those extra, non-related families, too. That is just too much for me to take right now.

  • I am a perpetual optimist, so I have books on my spreadsheet that have been on there for more than five years. By this time, I believe they will be retirement reads. Not that I’m retiring soon, but if we have to plan financially for retirement, I am also planning my reading for retirement. Stock up on books now before I am on a fixed income! (How’s that for rationalizing my book over-spending?)

  • litlove

    I really loved this when I read it! Charming is exactly the word. And I am all for a comfort read, particularly in these times with these relentless problems. Unfortunately, I haven’t found the books Eva Rice has written since to be as delightful as this one. But hey, at least there’s this one. Your reviews always make me smile, Jenny!

  • Yesss, TBR clearance feels so good! And I’m glad this turned out to be a fun read. I’m definitely craving those right now.

  • Priscilla Walter

    I read this about six or seven years ago and absolutely loved it! I’m very happy to hear you enjoyed it.

    • Did you post about it? Cause I can add a link! I am sure I saw your post at the time if you wrote about it, and just didn’t make a note because six or seven years ago I was far more careless than now. :p

  • helen (a gallimaufry)

    The last time I was in Britain I saw this in a charity bookshop and my hand hovered and then I thought,’No Helen, you are reading far too many “comfort books” at the moment, it is time to start reading meatier fare’ and now I see this was a Bad Decision bother bother bother.

    • Hahahahaha, the main failing here is not that you didn’t make that purchase (because you’ll get another chance, I’m sure!) but that you ever let yourself believe there was such a thing as “too many” comfort books. NOT A THING HELEN.

  • Alley

    Hmm I do like something ungrim in these stupid grim times

  • Haha, I don’t know exactly what books you’d categorize as sparkly snuggle hearts, but it seems like a perfect descriptor for heartwarming, comfort reads. I like your idea of removing books from your to-read list after a certain time limit! I try to remove things periodically, but haven’t been taking into account date added.

  • Stefanie@SoManyBooks

    Sparkly snuggle hearts! I love it! Will keep this in mind should the need for them arise 🙂

  • Laila@BigReadingLife

    Oh my goodness, this sounds wonderful. Onto the TBR it goes!

    (And it’s awesome you don’t let books linger longer than 5 years – I’m guilty of that in a few instances, despite weeding the TBR. Just a few, though!)