The Secrets We Keep…
About the Book:
A mother’s secret, a father’s betrayal, a town on the edge…
When social worker Aimee arrives in the mining town of Kalgoorlie, she is ready for a fresh start. Her colleagues Lori and Paddy seem friendly, and she is also drawn to one of her cases: the Steele family, whose future looks particularly bleak. But Aimee has a dark secret and as the past reaches out towards her once more, she realises that somehow her secret is connected to this unfamiliar but harshly beautiful town and its inhabitants.
As she strengthens her ties with the local community — especially with the vibrant Lori, stoical Kerry and wise Agnes — she finds herself questioning earlier decisions. Can she reveal her secret, even if it is not hers alone to share?
A compelling novel of the transcendental love of children and the truth’s unwillingness to stay hidden.
It’s always such a pleasure to read a debut novel written by an Australian author. We have such a rich writing community in this country and I love seeing new authors given the opportunity to showcase the fruits of their labour. I met Shirley Patton through the Australian Women Writers Challenge, well before the release of her debut novel, quietly reading and reviewing and supporting our Australian women writers, and it was some time before she let on that she herself was in fact an Australian woman writer on the cusp of having her first novel released. And here it is, The Secrets We Keep, and what a terrific novel it’s turned out to be.
Set in the mid-1980s, during that time when the Australian population was beginning to take environmental protection seriously and when racial discrimination against aboriginal people actually began to be considered as discrimination rather than the usual mode of conduct. The Secrets We Keep plays out in Kalgoorlie, but it could be any Australian mining town, the issues were the same, the foreseeable solutions equally so. Shirley’s background in social work provides a formidable grounding for the depiction of the many issues, environmental, cultural, and social, that orbited around the town of Kalgoorlie in the mid-1980s, and dare I say, to a certain extent, still today, particularly the cultural and social ones.
The complexity of these issues has been interwoven into the narrative seamlessly, the benefit of being an author who knows their material thoroughly enough to not shy away from painting the picture as it is, rather than how it looks best. I found myself remembering key issues that I studied while at university, but gaining a fresh approach through this read on account of being viewed from the grassroots community level. And that community aspect was conveyed so well; authentic and engaging, you got a strong sense, as the reader, on what life in an isolated community would be like. I live in one, so that authenticity was immediately apparent, but for those who don’t, their sense of place would be quite strong throughout this story.
There was a great mix of characters within The Secrets We Keep. They all had their secrets, their pain, their goals, their own personalities. Shirley has a way of writing welcoming scenes, it’s hard to pin down in words, but you just get this feeling of inclusion within the group, as though you’re in the scene along with them, everything playing out alongside you. It’s a unique talent, to recreate the everyday with such ease. I really liked Aimee, but what a shocking thing to carry within you; her secret devastated me and there were clues sprinkled along the way but I’ll confess that I resisted seeing the writing on the wall, it was just too terrible for me to accept until I had to. I like the path she chose in the end, the best one for all involved, but bittersweet for Aimee.
“Her resolve crumpled. She doubled up, clasping the photo against her chest. A rumble of thunder sounded in the distance. She pressed her forehead against the steering wheel. She stayed that way for several minutes then sat back, wiped her eyes and looked at the sky. It was getting lighter but there were dark clouds gathering in the north-east and a strange red mist on the horizon, mingling with the pink and yellow of sunrise.”
I liked Lori a lot too, but I will confess that the spiritual side of Lori’s story was almost as tricky for me to accept as Aimee’s secret. I struggle with the paranormal, but Shirley did incorporate this into the novel with style. And that’s the sign of a good book, isn’t it? Enjoying the story, even if it does wander out of your comfort zone from time to time. But Lori was a great friend and all round wonderful human being. I delighted in her romance and championed her decisions to live her life in the manner that suited her, rather than falling in line with her Italian family’s expectations. The 1980s doesn’t seem that long ago, but it is worlds away in terms of who were as women and what was still expected of us. This is another side issue that Shirley brought out into the light with a keen guiding hand.
The Secrets We Keep is a solid debut in the tradition of Judy Nunn. It’s an all encompassing story with valid themes and relatable characters, a look into our not too distant history, the shame as well as the triumph. I look forward to reading more of Shirley Patton’s novels for a long time to come.
Thanks is extended to HQ Fiction for providing me with a copy of The Secrets We Keep for review. Thanks is also extended to the author, Shirley Patton, for requesting I have an early copy of her novel for review. It’s always an honour to be trusted with the debut work of an author.
About the Author:
Dr Shirley Patton grew up in outback Western Australia and now lives with her partner and a miniature schnauzer, in wine-growing country overlooking the beautiful Tamar River, Northern Tasmania. She left an academic career as a published researcher of family violence and a lecturer to write fiction full time. Since then, she has published several short stories in a variety of literary publications. Prior to practising social work, Shirley worked in the media as a television newsreader and television chat show host. Like one of the characters in The Secrets We Keep, Shirley’s Irish great grandmother read tea leaves.