Ireland, 1919: Ellen O’Brien is about to start a new job ‘up at the big house’ but the war in Ireland is getting closer to home. Soon, everyone around her is getting swept up in an increasingly violent situation with Ellen, herself, finding her loyalties torn.
Almost a hundred years later, after the death of a family member, Clare Farrell has inherited an old farmhouse in County Meath. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to escape from an abusive marriage, she leaves her past behind and embarks on a new life in Ireland. The house, however, is in a poor state of repair and, whilst working on improving her living environment, Clare discovers a long-forgotten hiding place containing some mysterious artefacts. With only the renovations to occupy her time, she soon uncovers a secret that has remained buried for several decades.
Ever since reading The Daughters of Red Hill Hall, I have become a huge fan of Kathleen McGurl’s time lapse stories, and I was really looking forward to this one. I’ve always liked how the stories are told in two distinct time frames yet their plots gradually converge so we are seeing the same story told from two different perspectives. In The Forgotten Secret we meet two main protagonists, separated by almost a century, but each embarking on a new life, not knowing what the outcome will be.
I found I had a lot of respect for Clare, a woman who seemingly had a happy home life. Looks can be deceiving, though, and when you scratched beneath the surface, we discovered how controlling her husband, Paul, actually was. Stopping her from working, isolating her from her friends, choosing her clothes… the list could go on. I was pleased when she finally took the plunge and left her husband, starting a new life in Ireland. The discovery of the artefacts and her subsequent investigation do not take a central role in her story, but do help to add some detail to the story of the other main character, Ellen.
The chapters featuring Ellen were my favourite, moreso as the book progressed. Set against the fighting in Ireland between the Volunteers and the ‘Black and Tans’, we see a young woman who is caught up in a war that she quickly needs to learn about. Although I have read other books on this subject, I did enjoy the way the author explained what was happening and was also grateful for the historical overview she provided. Ellen’s story is a fascinating, yet tragic, one and I admired her tenacity which saw her come out the other side.
Another part of Ireland’s history is also dealt with, and it is one that leaves a particularly nasty taste in the mouth – that of the Magdalene laundries. Although the descriptions are not overly graphic, Kathleen McGurl paints a bleak image of the conditions and made me feel so angry for the women who were incarcerated there.
The Forgotten Secret is not an action-packed but is much more a plot-driven book. One part did fox me, though, and provided a great twist that I was not expecting. This is another great book from Kathleen McGurl, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed reading.
With thanks to HQ Digital and Net Galley for my copy and to Rachel Gilbey from Rachel’s Random Resources for organising the blog tour.
Take a look at my reviews of some of Kathleen McGurl’s previous books: