Thursday, March 29, 2012

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice

Eva Rice, daughter of the famed lyricist Tim Rice, has written a captivating and wonderfully stylized novel about a group of friends in postwar London’s glamorous and daring young society. With mannered prose dripping in the charm of 1950s London, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets centers around Penelope, the wide-eyed daughter of a legendary beauty, Talitha, who is unable to move beyond the loss of her charmed husband to the war. Penelope, with her mother and brother, struggles to maintain their vast and crumbling ancestral home — and the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed — while postwar London spins toward the next decade’s cultural revolution. Penelope wants nothing more than to fall in love. When her new best friend, Charlotte, a free spirit in the young society set, drags Penelope into vibrant young London with all of its grand parties, she sets in motion great change for them all. Charlotte’s mysterious and attractive brother Harry plots to use Penelope to make his American ex-girlfriend jealous, with unforeseen consequences, until a dashing, wealthy American movie producer arrives with what might be the key to Penelope’s — and her family’s — future happiness. Vibrant, witty and filled with vivid historical detail, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is an utterly unique debut novel about a time and place just slipping into history.

My take: 3 looks
This was an easy book to read, but it gets three looks from me because it would have also been as easy book to put down. Of its 352 pages, I was not hooked until after page 200. Several reviewers compare this book to I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith. While I have never read this book, it does appear that the similarities are numerous, with Smith's work being superlative in the minds of most of these reviewers. I was also a little turned off by the seemingly constant mention that the author is the daughter of a famous composer, which also does her an injustice.

Rice's writing is fluid, clever and easy to read, but by no means ground-breaking or otherwise soul-searching-and-revealing. The characters are well-drawn, but did not garner much empathy from me. I can imagine that this is exactly what it was like in post-war, post-aristocrat England in the 1950s. This is a nice beach or rainy day read. Most of all, though, it encouraged me to add I Capture the Castle to my reading list.

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