Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Clara Conway is a woman with secrets.
But consequently, Clara's family is falling apart. Her son Max emigrated to the US years ago and she has yet to meet her teenage granddaughter, Nathalie...because Max and his mother no longer speak.
Meanwhile Clara's daughter Ava is fighting for a piece of happiness. When Clara unexpectedly reaches out to Nathalie and her niece comes to visit, Ava's thoughts turn to Max, the brother she loved and lost. The brother whose abrupt disappearance left the Conway family heartbroken.
When Nathalie finds a pile of torn, faded letters, she unlocks the door to Clara's past. Can Nathalie's time with her grandmother start to right some very old wrongs? And can Clara find a way to reach out to Max and thereby begin to heal the whole family once more?
After all, some secrets are meant to be shared...
Today is going to be Emma Hannigan day on the blog where I'll be reviewing two VERY long overdue reviews for The Summer Guest and The Heart of Winter but first we'll start with this fantastic guest review for Emma's latest book The Secrets We Share.
Inspired by her own grandmother's story Emma Hannigan is back with her tenth novel The Secrets We Share and what a story she has given us. I have followed Emma's work right from the beginning when she published Designer Genes and unquestionably this is her best novel yet. Her heart and soul was poured into every word of this story and it just radiates from the pages. With each book Emma's writing has matured and the incredible, heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story showcases what a true talent we have here in Ireland. This is a book which demonstrates how secrets can tear a family apart and ultimately forgiveness and understanding can go such a long way. The cover is deceptive - yes the waterfall connects to the story but between these pages is a brilliant story with a historical aspect which I was not expecting and when having read the last page I was sad to leave these inspiring characters behind.
Clara Conway at 80 years old is in the latter stages of her life yet still well able to go out and about in the fictional town of Lochlann and keep an eye on her boutique now run by daughter Ava. But there is something tugging at Clara's heart. A twenty year estrangement from her son Max does nothing to ease the pain for many wrongs that have occurred. Having discovered Max is now a doctor in L.A she writes a letter to his 17 year old daughter Nathalie which sets in motion a chain of events which will alter the family dynamic forever. Will it have the effect she desires or has time proved to long to reconcile and forgive? Everybody in this book is hurting, all the characters have flaws but they are still endearing and you hope that they will all get the outcome they deserve. The author has such a way of describing their hurt, anguish and pain that you cannot but care for them. You can see why everybody feels and acts the way they do but you want them to realise the actions and weight of the past can not hinder the present or future.
Nathalie at such a young age is experiencing immeasurable pain at the death of her best friend in a car accident on the night of her prom. She embarks upon a course of self destruction unable to cope with what the world has thrown at her. Not even knowing she has an Oma (grandmother in German) in Ireland the letter which arrives leads her mother Amber to make a life changing decision. Soon Nathalie finds herself in a small town the polar opposite to what she is used to. It must have been very hard to have been uprooted from what you know to live with a woman you never knew existed but Nathalie handles this admirably. So begins a unique relationship between Clara and Nathalie which will plant the seeds of forgiveness in the hearts and minds of all the characters.
In the sewing room of Clara's house Nathalie stumbles upon a box of letters and like anyone else her curiosity is piqued and so she begins to read. The story on these pages is utterly heartbreaking and told so vividly. I won't say too much suffice to say it is based around World War Two. This method of using the letters was extremely well done and only added to the flow of the story.The letters were interspersed throughout at just the right time. They were not in your face but imparted what we needed to know and helped us to understand more about the situation in the present. Having dipped her toe in the past with this book I wonder will the author try it again in future books? I for one would love this as the letters only enhanced what was an incredibly well written story.
Although I felt for every character and understood where they were all coming from the person who spoke to the most was Ava. Yes, having finished the book I know why Max felt the need to leave and why his wife Amber was so angry with him. Also why Clara hid certain things but Ava's story was just so raw and emotional. She is in self destruct mode and my heart just went out to her, I wanted to give her a big hug and try and make things better for her. The author does say 'Nobody lives a perfect existence without so much as a shred of sadness' but the sadness Ava experiences is just something else. She has endured such pain but cannot speak about it and when we find out her background it endeared me to her all the more. The later half of the book moves along at a rapid pace and the secrets they are sharing just spill from the pages right down to the last page or two. There was so much I didn't see coming but the author has done a remarkable job in weaving the threads of the story together.
The Secrets We Share hit me right where it matters - direct to the heart. This is not easy to do and Emma Hannigan has accomplished this with great success. I flew through this in a day as the storyline and characters had me in the palm of their hand. Being drip fed clues in the beginning as to what had caused such upheaval in their lives only meant I was rapidly turning the pages to discover the overall outcome. Yes this book is full of hurt, upset and pain but it was handled in such a manner that the message and the characters shone through in a way that made me care for people involved all the more. Achieving the right balance between happiness and sadness is difficult to do but Emma Hannigan should be proud she mastered this in such a wonderful, heartfelt, emotive book. Yes you will need tissues as Emma throws everything at you but please pick up this remarkable book it has many lessons for all to learn hidden inside the pages.
Many thanks to Frances Gough of Headline for sending me a copy to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.