I don’t know what I was expecting from this book, I’d never read any of Harvey’s previous novels, but I knew the name.
For those that don’t, he is the man behind ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’, ‘Beautiful Thing’ and ‘Beautiful People’ as well as having written over two hundred episodes of ITV soap ‘Coronation Street’.
I think it’s fair to say that his comedy in ‘Beautiful People’ and certainly in ‘Gimme, Gimme, Gimme’ was broad and far from subtle. Don’t get me wrong, I loved both, but it was these that I had in mind when I came to reading his latest novel.
I’d forgotten all about the touching, sensitive ‘Beautiful Thing’.
The Secrets We Keep, while very funny in places, was between Beautiful People and Beautiful Thing on the spectrum of Harvey’s writing,
Writing for television and plays is a very different thing than writing for novels, but why I was surprised that a professional writer should be able to write, I’ll never know.
He was, as I should have expected, very good.
The book is about a family who, five years on from the disappearance of their father/husband, move away from their family home to a new area. This drags everything up as their new neighbours recognise them as the minor celebrities they became during Danny’s initial disappearance.
They seem like a normal family. Exasperated mother, gay son in a relationship breaking down and a bratty teenage daughter who feels like the world is against her. Danny, the missing part of their lives, seems like a normal, suburban father, who, one day, just went missing near the cliffs at Beachy Head.
As the book progresses, we start to realise that Owen, Danny’s son, knows something more, while Cally, his daughter, is determined to flee home to become a model.
And then we learn about Danny, from his perspective. We hear his life story from the eighties, right up until he disappeared. The writing is realistic, totally believable, but at the same time, it’s hard to imagine this man belonging in the family we’ve been getting to know.
Ultimately, that’s something that doesn’t ever feel a hundred per cent right. Once we know the truth behind his disappearance, the man he became doesn’t quite match up to the boy and young man he was.
Perhaps that’s the point, perhaps it’s a commentary on how life, how family changes us. Owen and Cally certainly change, with the latter being the most annoying character early on, but becoming one of the most sympathetic characters towards the end.
Cally is growing up, at the age of sixteen, she’s left it late, and what she’s growing up from is the most horrendous teenage girl you’ve ever come across, but she does start to evolve, even finally starting to bond with her mother.
The ending is an interesting choice and while I won’t spoil it here, I’m undecided whether I liked it or not. Things are left hanging, as if there’s a final chapter missing.
The Secrets We Keep is a brilliantly written novel, with many laugh out loud moments, but be prepared to suspend belief slightly for some soapy plot twists and coincidences.