5 July 2011

Book Review: The Secrets Between Us by Louise Douglas

A chance encounter: When Sarah meets dark, brooding Alex,she grasps his offer of a new life miles away from her own. They’ve both recently escaped broken relationships, and need to start again. Why not do it together?

A perfect life: But when Sarah gets to the tiny village of Burrington Stoke, something doesn’t add up. Alex’s beautiful wife Genevieve was charming, talented, and adored by all who knew her. And apparently, she and Alex had a successful marriage complete with a gorgeous son, Jamie. Why would Genevieve walk out on her perfect life? And why has no one heard from her since she did so?

A web of lies: Genevieve’s family and all her friends think that Alex knows more about her disappearance than he’s letting on. But Sarah’s fallen in love with him and just knows he couldn’t have anything to hide. Or could he?

I have read and loved Louise Douglas' previous two novels, so when I was given the chance to review her new, I was thrilled. I have to say I was shocked at the change in cover from the first two novels, which had gorgeous covers and looked very pretty. This one is a complete change, with a much darker appearance, with a solitary figure on the front representing our main character within the book. It has been likened to Daphne Du Maurier's "Rebecca", a book I haven't read but after looking at the synopsis on Amazon, I can see how Douglas has drawn inspiration from this novel, and other classics too. At over 450 pages, its a big chunk of a book but worth every single page, it's a fabulous read.

The lead character is Sarah, a woman who has been through a lot of emotional turmoil which causes her to make a decision she usually would never make. After the stillbirth of her son and consequent end of her relationship with her boyfriend, Sarah goes on holiday with her sister May and husband Neil. There, she meets Alexander and his young son Jamie. It turns out Jamie's mum isn't on the scene, and soon Sarah and Alex become more than friends. But when Sarah moves in and starts to find out more about Alex's absent wife Genevieve and her sudden and strange disappearance, her mind starts playing tricks on her... wondering why Genevieve left and where exactly she's gone.

This is a fabulous novel that has so many twists and turns along the way, its impossible to guess the ending, something I really enjoyed! It's very dark, with Douglas building up the tension throughout the book and at points it really was a bit scary to read (I am a bit of a wimp!)! It certainly has the gothic overtones that are mentioned on the back, and I loved Douglas' complete control over the characters and the story. Sarah was a likeable character, a woman who has had an awful time looking for escape and someone to love her too. You do think she's naive deciding to  move across the country to be with someone she doesn't know but it's a good start and straight away makes for interesting reading.

Alexander is the main male within the book, and I really couldn't make my mind up about him all the way through. Douglas' keeps you doubting whether he's a good man or not, and until the end, I couldn't say for definite whether he had done a terrible thing to Genevieve or not. I have to say I really liked the character of Jamie, the young child of Alexander who is struggling with the disappearance of his mummy. I didn't like the language he kept using, finding it a bit crass and rude for his age to be honest, but other than that, I feel Douglas got across his turmoil and feeling of bereftness well. Overall, they are a good cast to follow, and I also felt like Genevieve was very much part of the story even though she isn't about, simply because of how the story is written.

Douglas chooses to write the book in the first person narrative, and I think this worked perfectly for the book. It allows the reader to get into the mind of Sarah and therefore see the story from her point of view, and her uncertainty about everything, which in turns left me wondering what was going on and what to believe! I found the descriptions of Avalon, Alexander's house, quite brilliant, it was easy to imagine the old house to be frightening to Sarah, especially in the dark evenings! She also describes the town and surroundings well - it's definitely a book which relies on its narrative description to allow the reader to imagine everything in their mind as they are reading, which also goes to help understand Sarah's state of mind. I did find myself wondering why Sarah stuck around with Alexander despite her suspicions - most of us would probably run for the hills but I suppose it wouldn't have been an exciting read if she just jumped ship would it?!

I really could not put this book down as I was desperate to find out things were going to end for Sarah and Alexander, and whether we would find out what happened to Genenvieve, the mystery carrying on throughout the book. I have to say I did not see the ending coming at all - it was a complete bolt out of the blue and I have to give full credit to Douglas for managing to send me down the garden path with suspicions only to throw a massive curveball by the end! It was an incredibly enjoyable read, and is a real breakaway from Douglas' previous work, especially with the darker story within. I think this book will be a huge success, and I highly recommend it - one of my favourite reads of the year so far!

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