The Lost Art Of Keeping Secrets

Written by Eva Rice
Review by Ellen Keith

Rice, daughter of lyricist Tim Rice, has created a brilliant portrait of post-World War II London and of a specific sort of set, the shabby genteel. In 1954, Penelope Wallace is made an instant friend of Charlotte Ferris, a vivacious girl who works as a secretary to her Aunt Clare and co-conspirator to her magician cousin Harry. Penelope, her brother Inigo, and their mother, Talitha, live in decayed grandeur in their estate Milton Magna, which they cannot afford to keep up. Penelope is charmed by Charlotte’s insouciance and enlisted by Harry to pose as his girlfriend in hopes of making his ex jealous. And that, in a nutshell, is the essence of the plot.

What Rice does so well is create characters that may appear to be stereotypes but end up as entirely something else. Talitha is perceived by her children to have been a child bride who lost her husband in the war and is totally unprepared to face reality when in fact she reveals quite unexpected strengths. Charlotte, who looks as though she doesn’t have a care in the world, has quite deep feelings and fears. And Penelope and Harry, who only play at being a couple – well, you can imagine how that turns out.

Also accurately captured is postwar London, when rationing was lifted and rich Americans were seen as saviors. Elvis is introduced by an American uncle, but it is Johnnie Ray who drives the girls wild. I would love to have seen the London that Rice depicts with Penelope, Charlotte, and Harry as my companions.