Monday, December 29, 2014

Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly: no real secrets at all ...

Behind the shining windows and rose-decked gardens of Summer Street, single mother Faye hides a secret from her teenage daughter Amber. Whilst thirty-three year old Maggie hides one from herself. When fiery Amber decides to throw away her future for love, and Maggie finds herself back home looking after her sick mother, secrets begin to bubble over. The only person on Summer Street who appears to know all the answers is Chrissie Devlin. Wise and kind, she can see into other people's hearts to solve their problems. Except that this time she has secrets of her own to face …

This all started out very well indeed and I was instantly hooked on Chrissie and her gift of sight, uptight Faye and betrayed Maggie. At the beginning of this book, I loved them all and couldn't get enough of them, to be honest. Heck I even liked teenage daughter Amber and that, for me, is a very hard sell.

So, a strange kind of kudos to the author then for somehow taking that very strong beginning and tearing the whole thing into tiny pieces. It all starts to go wrong about halfway through when we start finding out those deep dark secrets - and they turn out to be either (a) super-cliched or (b) no kind of decent secret at all.

I mean Faye's secret is a naughty night out with her callow would-be rocker boyfriend when she gets pregnant with Amber, and then flings herself into a self-imposed Pit of Shame, which means she can never talk about the whole thing and believes she's some kind of slapper. Really???! To me, as an Essex Gal, that just seems like a decent night out, after which we all have a laugh with our girlfriends and move on. I couldn't honestly believe Faye would change her whole personality and style so she makes herself unattractive to men for the next eighteen years, and even makes up a marriage and dead husband to put Amber off the scent. It's totally ridiculous.

Not, however, as ridiculous as Maggie, with whom I lost sympathy when she bounces back from her doomed love affair and meets another more suitable man within about a minute or so. Honestly??? That whole scenario was just laughable, again, and so slushy it made my teeth itch. I also thought her way of getting over being a victim of bullying at school was simply unbelievable, on all counts.

Nor indeed as ridiculous as the whole Amber plot: Amber ditches taking her exams and her plans to be an artist, and runs off to America with her would-be rocker boyfriend - yes, this is exactly the same type of man as her mother had all the trauma about, so doesn't Ms Kelly know any other kind of Bad Boy? Do they all have to be would-be rockers? How I long for some sweet young heroine to run off with a man who wants to be an accountant and plays cricket for his local village team, but alas I fear I might be waiting a while …. Anyway, Amber soon realises her man is hopeless and leaves him - but not before some passing stranger in the States has offered her a fortune as he loves her artwork (on the strength of one scribbled picture at a party!) and longs above all things to sponsor her talent. Major Unreality Alert!! Is the author playing a trick on us? This one made me laugh out loud this time, and groan too. And yes, in the end, Amber comes home and it's all marvellous and perfect, etc etc. Yawn …

All this ridiculous plotting would have been just about acceptable, almost, but what really made me angry as a reader was the way Chrissie is held up as a shining example of goodness and yet finally tells her poor husband James about her long-ago infidelity in the most cruel and heartless way I can ever imagine anyone giving that kind of news to their spouse. It's not Chrissie's infidelity I had a real problem with (though it is of course hugely cliched again …) but how cold and downright nasty her way of confessing it actually is. I found that scene very shocking, and I really wanted to give her a huge slap and tell her to grow up. I was glad when James walked out - he could definitely get someone a whole lot nicer. However, of course, eventually he comes back and says it doesn't really matter. Um, again, no. That's not how betrayal works in real life - the way back is never this easy.

The only characters who kept my sympathy throughout and who were really worth any attention were the lovely Shona (a friend of Maggie's) and her husband Paul - now they were a class act, very witty and wonderful together, and I wish the book had been about them.

However, all in all, I was relieved to get to the end of all this nonsense. Overall, it's a mismanaged and mis-written book, in which a strong start is sadly and comprehensibly ruined.

Verdict: 2 stars. Disappointing and frustrating.

Anne Brooke Books
Gay Reads UK
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