Shhhh! My Novel has a Secret

"I have a terribly exciting secret in my past and now, after 60 years of silence, I’m going to bare my soul.” If you read historical fiction, you’ve probably run across this literary device at least once. The narrator of the story, usually a woman, reflects back on a terrible scandal or secret from the past that altered her life but has never, ever been told. A popular variation uses a narrator who receives a clue setting her on the trail of a hidden mystery. Secret pasts can make a wonderful story – think of Rose in the movie Titanic, forging a love for the ages on the decks of the ill-fated ship. I usually finish these types of novels with a little sigh over my ever-so-bland past. But then again, maybe I’ve got a secret or two of my own hidden away. I’ll let you know when I’m eighty.  

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier 
In this classic novel, an older woman living in exile reflects on her youthful marriage to the elegant widower Max de Winter. Her own insecurities and memories of his beautiful first wife Rebecca shadow their time at his renowned country estate Manderly.  Her quest to discover the truth of Rebecca’s tragic disappearance will lay bare the foundations of her own marriage.

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walters
An elderly Italian man appears in a Los Angeles movie studio searching for a mysterious woman he met 50 years ago. As their history unfolds, the story moves from a tiny, poverty-stricken Italian village, the filming of the movie Cleopatra featuring the turbulent romance of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor and the modern-day Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams 
A long-lost suitcase belonging to her aunt Violet Grant arrives on Vivian Schuyler’s doorstop in 1962. Vivian, who wants a career as a journalist despite her family’s pressure to marry, is intrigued by her aunt’s life as an early female physicist. She hopes to uncover the truth of a long-suppressed scandal from the beginning of World War I.    

The Girl You Left Behind by Jojo Moyes 
In 1916 France, a portrait of young Sophie Lefevre draws the unwanted attention of an officer in the occupying German forces. To protect her family, her business and eventually her husband’s life, Sophie is forced to take ever-increasing risks. In 2006 London, young widow Liv Halston clings desperately to the same portrait as a memento of her tragically short marriage. When a restitution company challenges her ownership of the painting, Liv must uncover the truth of what happened 100 years ago.

The Visitors by Sally Beauman 
Lucy Payne revisits her past as a childhood witness to the discovery of King Tutankhamun's tomb in Egypt. Archaeology fans will probably easily guess the secret of the excavation that Lucy reveals. This slowly paced novel captures the great historic personalities of the era from a child’s perspective, where the adult world can seem mysterious and forbidden.  

--Rebecca Wolff, Centreville Regional Library

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