Sunday, January 20, 2008

Past Secrets

Sometimes you just want to curl up with a book that doesn’t ask more of you than to turn the pages and to go along for the ride. Past Secrets by Cathy Kelly is one such book—the perfect reading companion for a few days out of the office while fighting a chest cold.

From Publishers Weekly:
Kelly's ninth novel, a cross-generational contemporary romance set in Ireland, is packed with high drama and the emotion to match. At 60, Christie Devlin and her peaceful home and garden are the heart of Dublin's picturesque Summer Street. But when a surprising nook of art teacher Christie's past is unearthed, the 30 fulfilling years Christie has spent with her husband, James, and their family threaten to unravel. Her neighbors, meanwhile, have their own crises to attend to: single mom Faye Reid is horrified when her daughter, Amber, drops out of college to travel with her musician boyfriend, prompting Faye to follow her to try to prevent her from making the same mistake Faye made in her youth. Wounded by an awkward adolescence and a cheating boyfriend, 30-year-old Maggie Maguire wishes she could stop letting her past hold her back from self-acceptance as she returns home to care for her ailing mother. If Kelly's sins are too many peripheral characters, an uneasy transition into Amber's teenage voice and meandering passages that could have been edited out, then they are easily forgiven. Kelly's evocation of mother-daughter relationships shines, and her handle on romance storytelling combined with her characters' feel-good, empowering evolutions make this a satisfying novel.

When James and Christie find their home…
And indeed, the house was beautifully proportioned even though it was sadly down at the heels, like a genteel lady who’d fallen on hard times but still polished the doorstep every morning even when she could barely afford milk for her tea.

Describing Claire’s miniature dachshunds, Tilly and Rocket…who had clearly been imperial majesties in a previous life.

Creating the image of Summer Street in readers’ minds…
From where they stood, the Devlin family could see the Summer Street Café with its aqua-and-white-striped awning and paintwork. On the pavement outside stood white bistro chairs and three small tables covered with flowered sea blue tablecloths that looked as if they’d been transported from a Sorrento balcony.

On the same side of the street as the café, there were terraced houses; then a couple of slender detached houses squeezed in; eight small railway cottages, their classic fascia boards traced with delicate carvings; then a series of redbricks including theirs; five 1930s bungalows and, finally, a handful of one-story-over-basements. The other side of Summer Street was lines with more terraced houses and cottages, along with a tiny part: two neatly kept acres with a colonnaded bandstand, an old railway pavilion and a miniscule fountain much loved by the pigeons that couldn’t bear to poop anywhere else.

The maple trees that lined the street were flanked by colorful border plants, while even the doors to the dizzying variety of houses were painted strong bright shades: cerulean blues, poinsettia scarlets, honeyed ambers.

Maggie Maguire and her mother Una visit a local councilwoman’s office…
The waiting room and the office reminded Maggie of an old shop where someone had ripped out the shelf units, painted the walls a sickly yellow and stuffed political pamphlets and posters everywhere, claiming better futures, better Irelands, better everything. “Pity they don’t have better chairs,” muttered Una as she shifted to get comfortable on the plastic chair.

Maggie, a librarian, remembering a favorite story her father told her…
Maggie loved the silence of the library. Ever since she’d been a child, and her father had explained why libraries were special places where you had to whisper, she’d loved the fact that the only sounds to be heard were muted whispers and the gentle rustling of pages.
“It’s quiet because all the books are sitting on the shelves, snoozing quietly as they wait to be picked,” Dad had said, “because being picked by you is the start of an amazing adventure for them.”

A couple of years ago, I read and enjoyed Just Between Us by Cathy Kelly. Since then, I have tried Always and Forever and Best of Friends, both of which sit languishing on the “Haven’t Finished Yet” pile. I had started Past Secrets about a week ago; and while I was enjoying the descriptive interior and garden passages, the book hadn’t grabbed me and was in peril of joining its two counterparts in the HFY pile. However, when one has taken to one’s favorite chair and surrounded oneself with fleecy blanket, Puffs Plus, Hall’s Lemon Honey throat lozenges, and a never ending supply of Vitamin water, one’s reading enjoyment level can alter to suit the occasion. The story of the women of Summer Street, their past and present secrets, and their coming full circle to acceptance and resolution fit the bill perfectly as a truly comforting read.

3/5 (General Fiction Scale)
Downtown Press 2006
484 pages

Dedication: None

Epigraph: None

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