I have said it before and I will say it again but the thing I love most about Book Twitter is the unexpected gems it throws in your path. Earlier this week I seized upon the offer of a copy of The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott. The gifted copy, sent by Sarah Ridley was awaiting me later in the week and it quickly threw all my weekend reading plans into disarray…
And I am so glad it did!
You could classify this novel as ‘the story of a story’. For at it’s heart it is the story of how Dr Zhivago, written by Boris Pasternak behind the Iron Curtain, made it to the Western world. It is the story of the price that was paid and the repercussions that were felt in both the East and West following the novels publication and international reception.
Named after the heroine of Doctor Zhivago, Lara Prescott has scrupulously researched and represented this extraordinary tale. Her portrait of Pasternak is of a complex, driven man, willingly to suffer for his art, passionate but sometimes blind to the consequences of his actions, both for himself and those around him.
The novel opens with his longtime and pregnant lover Olga Vsevolodovna being set to Gulag for her association with Boris and her refusal to betray him and his work.
And from this beginning we are left in no doubt who be the focus of this story.
For it is the women who drive this incredible narrative forward, both in the East and the West. And equally it is the women who are chronically underestimated.
Told by alternating from East to West,the story has all the hallmarks of a classic Cold War tale of spying and intrigue. But it is so much more. And it’s power lies within it’s characterisation.
Each chapter marks the evolution of the women at the stories heart. The changing character of the women as they move along their journeys of intrigue are marked, quite literally, in the changing nature of the titles.
There is real and genuine sense of voice in this book. Take for example the character of Sally, an experienced agent, a Swallow; her narrative manages to be both breezy and heartfelt, driving the plot along .With an inner steel, she is playing the long game, embracing duality and a changing persona. And ultimately revenge.
Or Irina, in whose heritage East and West come together, who is quickly proven to be so much more than a typist and who finds an unexpected and powerful connection with Sally. The relationship that develops between these two women might appear to be a subplot, but it is in fact intrinsic to the body of the novel.
Far more than the sum of it’s parts this is a celebration of love, sexuality, belief and talent, all wrapped up in a cloak of power, glamour and danger.
So glad I found it!