You know a book is good when you try to read in every free minute of your day, including as you complete everyday routine activities such as eating breakfast, getting dressed, and brushing your teeth. This is how I was during the one and a half weeks that I was reading The Secret Years, by Judith Lennox. It is, first of all, a really captivating story; the type of novel that you definitely read for the plot. The story follows four characters, who first meet as teenagers in a small British village before WWI. Certain events at that time set the stage for their lives becoming entangled over and over again during the years following the war. Through-out the entire 600 pages I was never bored and I was always eager to know what was going to happen next. Beyond the story itself, Lennox writes well. A quote on the cover of the book described her style as “sparse and elegant”, and I think this is an accurate description. Her writing is sophisticated enough such that I never felt like I was reading a trashy romance novel, even though the plot could at times be melodramatic and there was certainly romance.
There is a bit more to the book than simply a good plot. Lennox’s depictions of the character’s thoughts and feelings are very realistic. I was particularly struck by her moving characterization of the two characters who have shellshock after being in the war. Although there were only a few descriptions of the war itself (and only through the characters’ memories), she effectively exposed the horrers of war and its effects. She also explores relationships between people, including familial, romantic, and between friends, conveying the complexities of human interaction.
I have only one small criticism worth mentioning. The story begins when one of the characters, Thomasine (who I felt was the main character) is a child in Africa. Her parents and baby sister die and she is sent to live with two aunts in a small British village. It is in this village that she meets the other main characters, and the plot really begins five years later, when she is 15. Although I suppose this initial scene was necessary to set the stage for the remainder of the book – to motivate Thomasine’s presence in the village and lack of parents – I felt that there was a disconnect between it and the rest of the book. As I was reading later on in the book, it seemed like the initial part in Africa could have been in a different book; it was hard to maintain that connection in my head between the 10-year-old in Africa and the 20-year-old in London. However, overall this did not particularly detract much from the book; I still found it to be a great book.
I definitely recommend The Secret Years and I intend to read other books by Judith Lennox.