Secret by Philippe Grimbert
This short novel contains within its 154 widely spaced pages a tale so compelling you will want to read the whole thing in one sitting as I did and still have time to savour the exquisite writing as translated from the French by Polly McLean.
The only problem that I have in writing this review is that I can’t tell you much about it without giving away the central secrets that lie in this family’s past. The narrator tells of his childhood growing up in post-war Paris in the 1950s, the sickly only child of supremely fit and glamorous parents. He wishes he had an older brother and invents one, but it is when he talks to an old family friend once he reaches fifteen that he begins to find out the truth about his heritage, something his parents had wanted to stay buried.
One day while still a child, he helps his mother tidy in the attic …
She had opened a trunk in which she expected to find fashion magazines that used to publish her designs. She jumped when she saw the little dog with Bakelite eyes, sleeping there on top of a pile of blankets. Threadbare and dusty-muzzled, he was wearing a knitted coat. I immediately grabbed him and hugged him to my chest, but had to abandon the idea of taking him to my room: I could feel my mother’s unease as she asked me to put him back in his place. (page 5)
You should never hide things like that where people may find them – at the very least they should have ‘lost’ the key to the trunk. I shouldn’t be so glib though. Grimbert himself is a psychoanalyst and he uses all the tricks of the trade to gradually tease out what happened. He also shares a his surname with his protagonist, which will lead you to all sorts of questions, not least the killer one – are there elements of autobiography in this story? I have no idea of the answer to that by the way.
Published in 2004 in France as Un Secret, and 2007 in the UK dropping the ‘A’, this book was a bestseller in France and won a Prix Goncort. It was also filmed and I can certainly see it as a French drama. Please be aware that it is also available under the title ‘Memory‘.
The style is spare, yet full of the details that we need to get pulled into the story. I enjoyed this novel very much indeed. (9/10)
For another non-spoiler review see Vulpes Libris here
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Source: Own copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Secretby Philippe Grimbert. Pub 2007 by Portobello Books, paperback 154 pages.