4 reviews

A Secret Kept
by Tatiana de Rosnay

Published: 2010-09-14
Kindle Edition : 318 pages
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Recommended to book clubs by 3 of 4 members

This stunning new novel from Tatiana de Rosnay, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Sarah's Key, plumbs the depths of complex family relationships and the power of a past secret to change everything in the present.

It all began with a simple seaside vacation, a brother and ...

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This stunning new novel from Tatiana de Rosnay, author of the acclaimed New York Times bestseller Sarah's Key, plumbs the depths of complex family relationships and the power of a past secret to change everything in the present.

It all began with a simple seaside vacation, a brother and sister recapturing their childhood. Antoine Rey thought he had the perfect surprise for his sister Mélanie's birthday: a weekend by the sea at Noirmoutier Island, where the pair spent many happy childhood summers playing on the beach. It had been too long, Antoine thought, since they'd returned to the island—over thirty years, since their mother died and the family holidays ceased. But the island's haunting beauty triggers more than happy memories; it reminds Mélanie of something unexpected and deeply disturbing about their last island summer. When, on the drive home to Paris, she finally summons the courage to reveal what she knows to Antoine, her emotions overcome her and she loses control of the car.

Recovering from the accident in a nearby hospital, Mélanie tries to recall what caused her to crash. Antoine encounters an unexpected ally: sexy, streetwise Angèle, a mortician who will teach him new meanings for the words life, love and death. Suddenly, however, the past comes swinging back at both siblings, burdened with a dark truth about their mother, Clarisse.

Trapped in the wake of a shocking family secret shrouded by taboo, Antoine must confront his past and also his troubled relationships with his own children. How well does he really know his mother, his children, even himself? Suddenly fragile on all fronts as a son, a husband, a brother and a father, Antoine Rey will learn the truth about his family and himself the hard way.

By turns thrilling, seductive and destructive, with a lingering effect that is bittersweet and redeeming, A Secret Kept is the story of a modern family, the invisible ties that hold it together, and the impact it has throughout life.

A film is now in production, to star Melanie Laurent (Inglourious Basterds, Now You See Me), Laurent Lafitte (The Crimson Rivers, Little White Lies), and Audrey Dana (Roman de Gare, The Clink of Ice) and will begin shooting in April!

Editorial Review

No editorial review at this time.


Chapter One
I am shown into a small, drab room, told to sit down and
wait. Six empty brown plastic chairs face each other on tired
linoleum. In a corner, a fake green plant, shiny leaves coated with
dust. I do as I am told. I sit down. My thighs tremble. My palms
feel clammy, my throat parched. My head throbs. I think: I should
call our father now, I should call him before it gets too late. But
my hand makes no effort to grab the phone in the pocket of my
jeans. Call our father and tell him what? Tell him how?
The lighting is harsh, glaring strips of neon barring the
ceiling. The walls are yellowish and cracked. I sit there, numb.
Helpless. Lost. I long for a cigarette. I wonder if I am going to
retch, bring up the bitter coffee and stale brioche I had a couple
of hours ago.
I can still hear the screech of the wheels, feel the
sudden lurch of the car as it veered sharply to the right, careening
into the railing. And her scream. I can still hear her scream.
How many people have waited here, I think. How many
people have sat here where I am sitting now and waited for news
of their loved ones. I cannot help imagining what those jaundiced
walls have seen. What they know. What they remember. Tears,
shouts, or relief. Hope, pain, or joy.
The minutes click by. I watch the round face of a grimy
clock above the door. There is nothing else for me to do but wait.
After half an hour or so, a nurse comes in. She has a
long horsy face, skinny white arms.
“Monsieur Rey?”
“Yes,” I say, my heart in my mouth.
“You need to fill out these papers. With her details.”
She hands me a couple of sheets and a pen.
“Is she alright?” I mumble.
My voice seems thin and strained.
She flickers watery, lashless eyes over me.
“The doctor will tell you. The doctor will come.”
She leaves. She has a sad, flat ass.
I spread the sheets of paper over my knees with
trembling fingers.
Name, birth date and place, marital status, address,
social security number, health insurance number. My hand still
shakes as I print out: Mélanie Rey, born August 15th 1967 at
Boulogne-Billancourt, single, 49 rue de la Roquette, Paris 75011.
I have no idea what my sister’s social security number
is. Or her health insurance number for that matter. All that stuff
must be in her bag. Where is her bag? I can’t remember anything
about her bag. Just the way her body slumped forward when they
hauled her out of the car. The way her limp arms hung down to
the ground from the stretcher. And there I was, not a hair out of
place, not a bruise on my skin, and I had been sitting right next to
her. I flinch. I keep thinking I am going to wake up.
The nurse comes back with a glass of water. I gulp it
down. It has a metallic, stale taste. I thank her. I tell her I don’t
have Mélanie’s social security number. She nods, takes the sheets
and leaves.
The minutes inch by. The room is silent. It is a small
hospital. A small town, I guess. In the suburbs of Nantes. I’m not
quite sure where. I stink. No air conditioning. I can smell the sweat
trickling under my armpits, gathering around my groin. The
sweaty, meaty smell of despair and panic. My head still throbs. I
try breathing calmly. I manage to do this for a couple of minutes.
Then the helpless, awful feeling takes over swamps me.
Paris is more than three hours away. I wonder again if I
should call my father. I tell myself I need to wait. I don’t even
know what the doctor has to say. I glance down at my watch. Ten
thirty. Where would our father be now, I wonder? At some dinner
party? Or watching cable TV in his study, with Régine in the next
room, on the phone, painting her nails?
I decide to wait a little longer. I am tempted to call my
ex wife. Astrid’s name is still the first one that pops up in times of
stress or despair. But the thought of her with Serge, in Malakoff,
in our old house, in our old bed, with him invariably answering the
phone, even her mobile, for Christ’s sake, —“Oh hi, Antoine,
what’s up, man?”— is just too much. So I don’t call Astrid,
although I long to.
I stay in the small, stuffy room and I try once more to
remain calm. Try to stop the panic rising within me. I think of my
kids. Arno in all his teenage glory and rebellion. Margaux, a
creature of mystery at fourteen. Lucas, still a baby at eleven,
compared to the other two and their raging hormones. I simply
cannot imagine myself telling them: “Your aunt is dead. Mélanie is
dead. My sister is dead.” The words make no sense. I push them
Another hour creeps by. I sit there, my head in my
hands. I try to sort out the mess building up in my mind. I start
thinking about the deadlines I need to keep, tomorrow is Monday
and after this long weekend, there are many urgent things to be
done, that unpleasant Rabagny and his God-awful daycare center I
should not have taken on, Florence, that hopeless assistant I know
I have to fire. But how can I possibly think of this, I realize,
appalled at myself, how can I think of my job now, at this precise
moment when Mélanie is somewhere between life and death? I say
to myself, with a sinking heart: why Mélanie? Why her? Why not
me? This trip had been my idea. My present for her birthday. That
fortieth birthday she was so upset about.
A woman of my age comes in at last. A green operating
blouse and one of those funny little paper hats surgeons wear.
Shrewd hazel eyes, short chestnut hair touched with silver. She
smiles. My heart leaps. I rush to my feet.
“That was a close call, Monsieur Rey,” she says.
I notice small brown stains on the front of her uniform. I
wonder with dread whether those stains are Mélanie’s blood.
“Your sister is going to be all right.”
To my horror, my face crumples up, tears spill out. My
nose runs. I am acutely embarrassed to be crying in front of this
woman, but I can’t prevent it.
“It’s OK,” the doctor says. She grips my arm. She has
small, square hands. She pushes me back down into the chair, sits
beside me. I bawl like I used to when I was a kid, deep sobs that
come from the gut.
“She was driving, right?”
I nod, try and tidy up my damp nostrils with the back of
my hand.
“We know she wasn’t drinking. We checked that. Can
you tell me what happened?”
I manage to repeat what I told the police and the
ambulance people earlier on. That my sister wanted to drive the
rest of the way home. That she was a reliable driver. That I had
never been nervous with her at the wheel.
“Did she black out?” asks the doctor. The name on her
badge reads: “Docteur Bénédicte Besson”.
“No, she didn’t.”
And then it comes back to me. Something I had not
told the ambulance people because I only remember it, just now.
I look down at the doctor’s small tanned face. My own
face is still twitching with the crying. I catch my breath.
“My sister was in the middle of telling me something…
She turned to me. And then it happened. The car drove off the
highway. It happened so fast.”
The doctor urges me on.
“What was she telling you?”
Mélanie’s eyes. Her hands clasping the wheel. Antoine,
there’s something I need to say. I’ve kept it back all day. Last
night, at the hotel, I remembered something. Something about…
Her eyes, troubled, worried. And then the car driving off the road.
... view entire excerpt...

Discussion Questions

From the publisher:

1) Discuss the different narrative structures employed in A Secret Kept. What do you think the author intended to achieve with each? Do you prefer one over the others?

2) How does the author describe the classic, wealthy 16th arrondissement of Paris—where Blanche Rey's apartment and the avenue Kleber one are located—as opposed to where Antoine lives, on the Left bank? What does this tell you about the Rey family?

3) Part of the novel takes place on Noirmoutier Island which is connected to the west coast of France by the Gois Passage. Why is Antoine so attached to Gois Passage? Do you see any parallels between the author’s descriptions of this place and the story as a whole?

4) What was your impression of Antoine at the beginning of the book? What about at the end? Over the course of the novel, how does he change and what does he learn about himself?

5) Discuss the different themes and imagery of death that come up in the novel and that Antoine has to face. Did you find them morbid? Or realistic?

6) Did you like the character of the sexy, streewise mortician Angèle Rouvatier? What makes her different from other heroines and what do you think she represents? In what ways does she have a hand in the changes in Antoine’s character?

7) François and Antoine Rey are two opposite personalities, as fathers, husbands, brothers, and sons. Discuss specific differences you see. Do you believe Antoine will ever get through to his father? What exactly do you think François knows about Clarisse, her life, her death?
8) Clarisse Rey is the invisible woman of this book. Yet her letters, photos, and the film that Antoine watches at the end, as well as Gaspard's confession, gradually expose her. What kind of woman was she? What do we learn about her? Compare her to Angèle, Melanie, and Astrid.

9) How do Melanie and Antoine react differently when they discover the truth about their mother and her death? Why do you think that Melanie chooses not to remember? Do you think you would react more like Melanie or Antoine?

10) This novel explores taboo subjects and family secrets in a conservative French bourgeois society. Discuss those subjects and whether they would be taboo if the novel were set in the USA. What do you think really happened the day Clarisse went to confront Blanche?

11) Do you personally believe that family secrets should be revealed or hidden forever? In cases like the novel’s, do you think the truth is more painful than lying?
12) If you have read Sarah's Key—also by de Rosnay—can you point to any themes that are found in both books?

Notes From the Author to the Bookclub

Note from the Author:

A Secret Kept is, like Sarah's Key, a tale of family secrets, and how these secrets come swinging back from past to present like a boomerang. This is the story of Antoine Rey, a middle-aged lonely man, struggling with the aftermath of a messy divorce, an unexciting job and trying to raise unruly teenage kids. He also has to deal with an ageing father, with whom he has never gotten on, and with the hazy memories of a mysterious mother, gone too soon. In the beginning of my novel, Antoine is a loser. At the end, and because of everything that happens to him, he comes across as a wonderful, sensitive, strong and caring man.

I wrote this book because I wanted to describe our modern lives today, as parents, as children, as brothers and sisters, showing how we choose to bring up our kids, what we feel compelled to tell them about life and its unexpected truths. I also wanted to explore how we face death and the loss of loved ones.

But this book is above all about love. Love and its many secrets, its differences, its power, its magic, its everlasting surprises.

Book Club Recommendations

Member Reviews

Overall rating:
  "A Secret Kept"by Christina G. (see profile) 03/16/12

The juxtaposition of lives through four generations was an absorbing comparison of moralities where we had to agree that you cannot accurately judge people by the times they lived in. Acceptance (or not)... (read more)

by Susan L. (see profile) 10/22/23

by Lindsey S. (see profile) 02/23/18

  "The Secret Kept"by Joanne V. (see profile) 01/20/12

We chose this book because we loved Tatiana De Rosnay's first book, Sarah's Key, so much. We all agreed that this was not of the same quality. That said we did enjoy the book although the characters were... (read more)

  "A Secret Kept"by Mary Beth L. (see profile) 01/12/12

This book was good, but not great. It was a coming of age for Antoine, the main character, but there were too many angles. Antoine became stronger at the end, but there were many questions left unanswered... (read more)

  "A Secret Kept, Tatiana de Rosnay"by Gail R. (see profile) 10/17/11

On the cover of the book, there is a woman walking down a street. The stark contrast of her wide, red flaring coat against the narrow cobble-stoned almost colorless road, was beautiful and e... (read more)

  "A Secret Kept"by Marilyn C. (see profile) 09/21/11

Sarah's Key was a much more interesting story. The characters in this book especially the main character was a very unsympathic person, shallow, self absorbed. The mortician was a too good to be true... (read more)

  "A Secret Kept"by Jessie S. (see profile) 09/19/11

The story was slow and the main character was self-loathing and spineless. The story didn't provide closure to his multitude of issues. I had such high hopes for this book after reading Sarah's Key.

  "A Secret Kept"by Jodi J. (see profile) 04/07/11

  "A Secret Kept"by Kristin K. (see profile) 02/08/11

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