FRENCH SECRETS by ROISIN McAULEY
I often find that I enjoy novels by Irish writers and , when searching for some books to read in The Works I was attracted to this particular one when noticing the author's Irish name written in large print across the front cover. Also, underneath the title was printed a quote from The Belfast Telegraph saying, "The new Maeve Binchy" and as the late Maeve Binchy was one of my favourite authors, seeing this definitely drew me to the book.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Roisin McAuley was born in Northern Ireland. She lives in England and has done since the 1980s. McAuley wasn't a published author until she was in her fifties although she worked as a reporter for documentaries, both on radio and television. Her first book, "Singing Bird" was published in 2004 although her non-fiction work "Emerald Greens: The Complete Guide to Holiday Golf in Ireland" was published in 2000.
ABOUT THIS NOVEL
The book has a very short prologue (one paragraph) which, of course, ties in with the story. It lets readers know that a couple, of different nationalities, were lovers in France during World War Two, 1944 to be exact. Well, that was one secret! Not the only one but you'll have to uncover them yourselves. After this short introduction chapter one begins in the year 1994 and we are introduced to a young American lady, Melanie Miller.
Melanie is a very likeable character. She has just been dumped by her boyfriend. We soon learn that she has been brought up by loving grandparents but does maintain a relationship with her mother, albeit a somewhat strained one, and an even more tenuous relationship with her stepfather, Ivor Kitchov. Melanie's father deserted her mother who was pregnant at the time with Melanie. He has since died, and his daughter regrets the fact that she never knew him. Melanie's grandmother had died a few years before but is mentioned in this novel. Melanie spends her time between living with her grandfather, and in her own small home for work and college. Then it is discovered that her grandfather has a secret from his past. Grandfather and granddaughter remain close but Melanie now wants to discover more of his past and therefore her own. Her chosen career path is to be a winemaker; she works for a winemaking concern and attends college to learn the theory as well as the practises involved. She really enjoys her work and has a 'good nose' for wine making.
Chapter sixteen introduces us to Honor Brady. Honor's family home is in Ireland but she bases herself in England where she manages to secure small acting roles. It becomes apparent to her that she'll never be in the running for an Olivier award. Honor soon comes to terms with this. Also, Honor's relationships don't seem to last over the six month mark. Her body clock is ticking rapidly and with increased volume. Then along comes Hugo Lancaster, seller of rare and sought after collectible wines. A new relationship begins, bringing with it a change of country. But will Hugo be the one for Honor?
About one third of the way through the story reverts again to American Melanie but I found (and this is quite unusual for me) that I had to go back a few times to refresh my memory about Melanie's situation.
Although the story ties in and one can see how characters are interwoven I did find it a little confusing. But central to everything is wine making, tasting and the selling of rare vintage wines, especially those with a little history to them such as vintage bottles which were hidden during times of war. I felt that the main characters might meet and I also wondered what would happen to the Chateau Le Rossignol, which seems to be at the heart of the story.
Returning to Melanie's life has readers joining her on a journey of discovery as she matures and realises she may have been too hasty to judge certain people. She might have even been overly harsh where one person in particular is concerned. Nothing is cast in stone.
The novel flits from Honor to Melanie throughout.
I liked the characters of both Melanie and Hope who are quite different but both decent people with strengths emerging in their characters. Their stories are told in the first person, which I think makes them feel known to me, as a reader, fairly quickly.
The other characters worth mentioning are: Didier Rousseau, French ex -banker who makes wines by a biodynamical method, Ivor Kitchov, Melanie s step-father who invests in rare wines. Honor's long-time friend, actor, Diarmuid Keenan appears frequently throughout.
I think the book being written in the first person works well. As for content I have to say that I didn't find this book remarkable but did still find it interesting throughout. It wasn't one that I found too difficult to put down, although in all honesty I find most books hard to put down, being a bit of a bookworm, but for me this novel was never boring and rolled along nicely. It was fairly fast paced and didn't dwell too long, I felt, on any one event.
I thought it was well written with good, credible characters. There was nothing wrong with it at all. I feel it is recommendable yet I would say, in all honesty, that although it was a good, well written novel, it wouldn't make it onto my top reads of the year. But I must stress that I found this author's style of writing very enjoyable; it's just that I have read several more gripping books lately, including those in the chic lit genre.
WHO MIGHT ENJOY THIS BOOK?
I would recommend French Secrets as being a good read for all adult female readers, probably from around the mid-twenties age group to the more mature reader. There's nothing in it to offend anyone, in my opinion, and it's an enjoyable read.
AND NOW TO ANSWER THE QUESTION IN MY TITLE!
"The new Maeve Binchy" Well, I would say without hesitation, definitely not! This isn't because the author isn't talented, as she is, but I don't find her style bears much resemblance at all to the late and great Maeve Binchy. They are both Irish and I understand, were friends, but the mood of French secrets isn't like the mood, to my mind, contained in any Binchy novel (and I've read them all). Also, the humour and 'Irish-ness' isn't as apparent as it is in any read by Maeve. It was a different type of tale really.
I'm not being derogatory to this writer, as I am looking forward to reading more of her novels, but I cannot see the point of this comparison myself. I think it's been made purely on the basis that both authors are Irish, and even then I understand that McAuley is from Northern Ireland and Maeve Binchy was from Eire. I don't consider that to give enough substance to this comparison.
WHERE TO BUY/PRICES
I purchased my copy of this book from The Works where I'm a frequent customer. On this occasion I bought three books for five pounds. This book was priced at £1.99 if bought on its own. My copy is by sphere and this edition was published in 2012.
French Secrets can be purchased in hardback, paperback and for Kindles.
In paperback format this book is available from many stores both on-line and from high street stores. A few examples:
WH Smith -£5.00
The Works-£1.99 or buy 3 books for £5.00
OTHER BOOKS BY THE SAME AUTHOR
Singing Bird (2004)
Meeting Point (2005)
Finding Home (2008)
French Secrets (2011)
Emerald Greens: The Complete Guide to Holiday Golf in Ireland (2000)
(This review is written for the relay team: Doolympians Four)