Little touches of pure magic redeem this complex, end of World War Two family saga. The intertwining of characters’ aims and shared sufferings lift The Secret out of the ordinary.
Twins Margaret and Luke’s father dies in a London air raid. For safety, with their mother, they go to live with his parents, the Wilsons, in the north. The twins’ uncle, benign Callum Wilson, owns a foundry. Well-off, he lives in a big house, which easily takes the evacuees. But Callum’s past indiscretion with a working-class Catholic girl, Jessie Keir, brings complications to light. She has married in haste and Danny becomes the first child of many. The story now involves families of different class and religious persuasion.
Margaret and Luke and Jessie’s children become friends. When Margaret begins to love Danny, her secret half-brother, the cat’s among the pigeons. Despite the recriminations and family anguish we see some of the noblest human qualities during a dark period of British life.
I was frequently arrested by complex syntax and quaint expressions like ‘distracted herself by offering tea’. In 1944-5 there would be black, brown, green and two-toned cars but not a ‘big silver Bentley’. Metallic paint came later.
Despite these minor blemishes The Secret is an uplifting, fascinating, well-told story of love in the most unexpected places. Its twists and turns make it an excellent holiday read and its little touches of pure magic raise the spirits, even bringing tears to a man’s eyes.