Other People's Secrets (by Louise Candlish)

I've enjoyed several books by Louise Candlish, and had this on my wishlist for a while; when I picked it from my to-read shelf a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to note that I was given it a couple of years ago. Perhaps the cover had put me off: it isn't a particularly appealing cover, and certainly doesn't suggest the emotive and thought-provoking nature of the book. It took me a couple of weeks to read it, a chapter or so at a time at bedtime... until, in the last 100 or so pages, I couldn't put it down.

'Other people's secrets' features a time span of just two weeks. A wealthy family (Marty and Bea Sale and their three adult offspring) are on holiday in Italy. Nearby, staying in a converted boathouse, are Adam and Ginny: a young couple who have just experienced a devastating tragedy. Just as they're starting to get to know each other, an attractive young man appears on the scene; he's staying in a cheap hotel in the town.

All eight of these main characters have secrets of some kind. We learn some of them very quickly - an unfaithful husband, a planned separation - and others are revealed within a few chapters, including the nature of the young couple's tragedy, although this is obvious from the start. Other secrets are just hinted at, at first; while I had guessed one of them pretty early on, there was a revelation towards the end which I certainly hadn't expected.

The writing is powerful, with believable conversations and just enough description to set the scenes. There was a fair amount of introspection - we see several different viewpoints, through the novel - but it works well, all the subplots gradually drawing together as the people relate to each other.

I found all the main characters appealing in different ways, although one of them (Esther) was so shadowy that she felt almost redundant; I felt that perhaps she was put there as a token. The person I found most disturbing was Bea, mother of the wealthy family. She's wise and caring, intuitive and strong; I liked her very much at first. Yet she does something so stupid and unlikely (indeed, she then repeats it several times) that I lost my belief in her entirely. This part of the plot just didn't work, in my view.

But all the rest is expertly done. I had my heartstrings tugged several times, and even had a little tear in my eye a couple of times. If it were not for Bea's sordid indiscretions, I would have rated this very highly indeed and recommended it strongly, as it's a powerful and thought-provoking book which, overall, I enjoyed very much.

Available in paperback on both sides of the Atlantic, and in Kindle form too.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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