The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets by Eva Rice was given to me as a Christmas present by my friend Lorna, who’d read and loved it. I passed it on to Our Vicar’s Wife, who also loved it, and has passed it on to a lady in our village in Somerset… isn’t it great when a recommendation goes along a chain like this? It’s only fair that I pass it on to all of you, too.

Please don’t let that fact that it was a Richard & Judy Book Club choice put you off. They choose some fine books. And, more importantly, don’t be discouraged by the cover, which falls firmly into ‘chick lit’ territory. Today’s sketch shows the importance of distrusting cover images…


Right. Now we can consider the book itself. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is set in the 1950s. Penelope lives in one of those crumbling old mansions only found in literature, and is (of course) the daughter of a beautiful widow, and has a mildly eccentric brother, obsessed with music. She meets Charlotte at a bus stop, and is invited, out of the blue, to visit Charlotte’s aunt (not, we must note, the same as Charley’s Aunt) who lives in a book-crammed room, and is dictating her own book to Charlotte. Charlotte is the driving force of this novel, though we follow Penelope’s viewpoint – in Charlotte, Rice has enfused such an energy, such a good-natured whirl of sophisticated absurdity and capriciousness. She reminded me of Miss Hargreaves, not in sharing character traits, but in her unique energy; in the unwearying delight it is to read about her.

Penelope and Charlotte dash from socialite parties to the aunt’s flat to the disintegrating mansion – sharing crushes, aspirations, occasionally squabbling – all with a pace and joy that is contagious. Rice includes a couple of significant plot twists, which is all to the good of the novel’s structure, but when she produces characters so brilliant, it scarcely matters what the plot is.

The debts to Nancy Mitford and Dodie Smith are there, and cheerfully confessed to in the blurb, but this novel restored my faith in the modern novel. I’ve read a fair few good modern novels, but all of them were sombre much of the time. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is the first unapologetically amusing and incandescently happy novel I’ve come across in ages.

11 thoughts on “The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

  • April 22, 2008 at 3:12 am
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    I loved this book too, and I’m not really a chick lit person. It was just so much fun to read, and I agree with your Dodie Smith and Nancy Mitford comparisons. I gave a copy to my sister for Christmas and she loved it too.

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  • April 22, 2008 at 7:26 am
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    I loved this book as well – it did seem to be wearing the same scent as Nancy Mitford and was a joy from start to finish. I believe it’s the author’s second novel but I haven’t read that.

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  • April 22, 2008 at 8:28 am
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    I swithered about this book when it first appeared, and didn’t buy it, but from what you’ve said I think I must read it now. Love the sketch, by the way!

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  • April 22, 2008 at 9:53 am
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    I loved this book too and like you it has still doing the rounds of friends that it has been passed on to!

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  • April 22, 2008 at 2:41 pm
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    Lovely review and great drawing! I have this book, and the cover over here is also slightly chick-litish, but it sounded so good I had to buy it. I really do need to move it up my pile if it’s anything like a Mitford or Dodie Smith novel!

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  • April 22, 2008 at 8:21 pm
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    It was a delicious entertaining romp of a book – and no harm in it! How refreshing these days – gosh I’m sounding old!
    Maybe it’s because I’ve just finished Elizabeth Taylor’s ‘Angel’ which was a compelling read about a particularly unpleasant person. Reaching the end was a huge relief and I feel the need of Jeeves, or similar, as an antidote.

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  • April 22, 2008 at 8:45 pm
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    Sorry Simon, can you explain the meaning of the words “happy” and “amusing”? I’m currently reading Dr Faustus …

    Dark Puss

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  • April 24, 2008 at 5:53 am
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    Just wanted to add that as you enjoyed this book, I’d like to recommend Victoria Clayton’s books… they’re equally charming and enjoyable. I’ve read all of them and haven’t been disappointed yet.

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  • April 30, 2008 at 2:28 pm
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    I admit to hiding the covers of books behind brown paper if I don’t like them. I am easily embarrassed, you see.

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