[I]t’s not until we get out of the car that I have a cold feeling in my stomach. If she lied about such a little thing so convincingly, what else is she lying about?
My Mother’s Secret is told through the experiences of three narrators: Lizzie Bradshaw, Emma Taylor, and her daughter, Stella Taylor. It’s a contemporary thriller that hones in on themes such as identity and parenthood. The protagonist, Emma, hides a dark secret that goes all the way back to Lizzie’s narration, which takes place sixteen years before the experiences of Emma and Stella.
Secrets always have a way of revealing themselves, though, and this is exactly what Emma comes to realise when Stella witnesses her mother doing something… unexpected. The rest of the story deals with a lot of emotion as the various characters attempt to work through the events that are now unfurling around them.
This is a story of love, loss, sacrifice, and most importantly of all, secrets.
The first thing to say about My Mother’s Secret is that it is extremely compelling: the story is gripping and the characters are well developed. They also instil a lot of curiosity into the mind of the reader; their stories are interlocked in a way that will encourage you to keep reading, even in the slower parts of the novel.
Perhaps the most interesting thing about My Mother’s Secret is its comments on identity. Throughout the novel, Emma is struggling to work out who she is. She has lost a part of herself, and, amid the central action of the novel, she is working through her own, personal problems. Meanwhile, her daughter is trying to grow up and establish herself as an adult. These two identity crises are placed back-to-back in the novel, complementing each other and producing powerful narrative effects.
Yet this book also has its issues. For one thing, its “twists” leave a lot to be desired. They are easy to predict, lacking the originality you would expect from a narrative that hinges on a big, conclusive “twist”. For another, the different narrators have very distinct voices. Generally, this is a very positive thing: they are distinct characters with distinguishable voices. Yet this book also switches between first-person and third-person narrations, which can actually seem rather confusing. It’s an unusual writing decision, and, unfortunately, it has quite a negative effect on the rest of the novel.
It is also possible to struggle with the plausibility of My Mother’s Secret. The main narrative centres around a secret, yet everything about this secret – along with the reason for concealing it – is just so unlikely. This may be fiction, but it is also a realist work, which means that it is set in the real world, and, as a result of this, it should be believable. For the most part, the events that happen in this novel are unlikely, but, to a degree, they are believable. Yet the suggestion that all of these events happened at once – to one person – does seem a little absurd.
Having said this, My Mother’s Secret is a very enjoyable novel. It provides some fascinating insights into identity crises, anxiety issues, and the struggles of parenthood. It is well written, has short chapters that make it easy to read, and is certainly exciting. If you don’t mind the occasional impossibility, then we can thoroughly recommend this book.