I realise that sounds kinda strange, but… I follow Rachael on social media and love her words, updates and tweets. I can very much relate to her and think I’d like her if I met her in person.
However… her books have traditionally fallen more into the ‘romance’ genre: one I steer clear of as much as possible. As I do with fantasy, science fiction and non-fiction. And really big L literature, written by Russians with complicated names.
Johns’ latest release, The Art of Keeping Secrets, has been receiving praise from a lot of readers and book bloggers; and, as it sounded like it focused less on the happily-ever-after I decided to dive in. And thank god I did.
The Art of Keeping Secrets
by Rachael Johns
Published by Harlequin MIRA
on September 19th 2016
Genres: General Fiction
They’ve been best friends since their sons started high school together, and Felicity, Emma and Neve share everything … or so they thought.
But Flick’s seemingly perfect marriage hides a shocking secret which, with one word, threatens to destroy her and her family’s happiness.
Emma is in denial about a potential custody battle, her financial constraints, the exhaustion she can’t seem to shake off and the inappropriate feelings she has for her boss.
And single mum Neve is harbouring a secret of her own; a secret that might forever damage her close-knit relationship with her son.
When the tight hold they have each kept on their secrets for years begins to slip, they must face the truth. Even if that truth has the power to hurt the ones they love, and each other.
Perhaps some secrets weren’t made to be kept.
I knew I’d love Johns’ writing. There was no question of that. I tend to assume most people’s writing is a reflection of who they are and from stuff I’ve read (interviews and social media updates) I knew Johns’ style was warm and funny. Which came across in the novel. Her writing is very relatable and accessible. And by that I don’t mean ordinary, as not many writers can manage that easy conversational tone without it sounding forced or if they’re trying to be informal.
Initially I thought this book was going to be a bit Maeve Binchy-like… following some characters through several decades and learning of their secrets, but it’s set within a short time period – during a time of crises for all three of our leading characters. Their ‘secrets’ may be long-held ones, but Johns doesn’t draw them out in an agonising fashion. They’re shared early on and not all are immediately understood or receive empathy from the others, which makes the novel and its plot very real.
Their friendship was interesting as I found myself comparing the relationships to my own. My long-term best friends and I see each other intermittently. Weekly at one point, but once partners and families came along it was harder and sometimes a month or so would pass. Even now I don’t usually see my (local) closest friends that often and I’ve sometimes wondered about those who seem to see their besties every day or several times a week. I don’t think familiarity breeds contempt, but nor do I think it necessarily makes a friendship closer. I now find myself messaging my two local besties every day on Facebook and I kinda like that I know what they’re up to and we can share our thoughts and concerns in a way that feels comfortable.
But of course that’s irrelevant. (Although I’m sure you were enthralled nonetheless!) Neve, Emma and Felicity met five years earlier and – via their sons – have become best friends. In many ways their boys are all they have in common, but they’ve bonded and ‘think’ they’ve shared their secrets and know each other well. But of course that’s never the case.
There’s a contemporary feel to this novel and it’s not just through social media references or popular culture. I can’t say too much without divulging one of the secrets, but Johns doesn’t shy away from a sensitive and complex issue – and handles it very well. In fact, in Flick’s case I initially cringed a little at the issue – as it seemed a bit contrived – but, it works and the ultimate decision Flick needs to make is one which seems almost impossible.
All three lead characters are complex and interesting – with very different personalities and very different problems. They’re independent and strong characters but – like so many women and mothers – struggling to believe they’re doing as well as others and worrying about failing their children. They’ll be very relatable for readers, as even this childless, single reader could relate to some of the dating and confidence issues experienced. And then there’s that sense of regret…. which I could metaphorically taste.
Mostly I was relieved on reading this book, which – incidentally – I read in one long bathtub sitting. Johns did not disappoint. She delivered as I expected and I loved the touches of herself interspersed through her characters and the book. I know she’s a lover of diet coke (as I am – well, Vanilla Diet Coke for me at the moment), and it features strongly. Along with chocolate. And wine.
This is an enjoyable novel, it’s not always cheery and my own tears were a surprise; but ultimately it’s empowering and uplifting. Readers shouldn’t necessarily expect their happily-ever-afters however, because Johns gives us something a bit more real than that.
The Art of Keeping Secrets by Rachael Johns was published in Australia by Harlequin MIRA and is now available.
I received an electronic copy of this book via NetGalley from the publisher for review purposes.