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Hazel

Secret

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Wait! This is not one of those hideous abuse-misery-memoirs! It is actually 'literature', but as it is based on the author's real life, a 1st person narrative, and the protagonist has the same name as the author, I thought I'd better stick in this forum.

 

Post-1945, young Philippe is living his life in the shadow of another boy and another identity. He imagines that his parents look at him with a desire of what their son could have been, should have been and with slight disappointment in everything he is and does. It is only when Louise, the family friend who has the shop next door to Philippe's parents, decides that he is old enough to hear some truths about his family that light is shone brightly upon that shadow that has haunted Philippe and his relationship with his parents. And so, Philippe listens to and has to come to terms with the lives his parents had before he was born.

 

I don't really want to say too much more as it will give away much of the plot of this novel - really, a novella. And with a book as short as this one, even a little nugget is too much.

 

I really enjoyed this book, I can see why it is a bestseller in France. There must be a lot of family histories like Philippe's; tragic and beautiful, sad and inspiring. It reads wonderfully, a credit to the translator, and really does make you think about the nature of love, identity and family - especially in this setting where horrific outside forces tore families apart.

 

Highly recommended.

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I read this in French last weekend; it has been made into a film - which apparently has not been released in the UK - and my edition has a rather horrible photo on the cover.

 

I agree with what Hazel has said here - except that all in all I didn't enjoy it as much as she did. It opens with an intriguing first sentence: I don't have the translation, but it's probably:

An only son, for a long time I had a brother.

The brother is at first an idealised version of everything the narrator, a puny child born to glamorous, physically perfectly parents, feels he is not - but then something/someone else starts to come out of the shadows. As Hazel says, it is difficult to say more without giving too much away.

 

Philippe Grimbert is first and foremost a psychoanalyst. Un secret is found on the fiction shelves in French bookshops but it is to all intents and purposes an autobiographical work. That said, it is written with the sensitivity that would appear to indicate an experienced novelist.

 

The title in English should really be A Secret, given that the book deals with the unearthing of a specific secret... - but apparently that was already the title of some self-help book.

 

***/*****

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my edition has a rather horrible photo on the cover.

 

 

Oh dear God, that's an awful cover - clearly focusing on the father rather than Philippe himself. It makes the novel appear as some French-arty-film-on-adultery. Most off-putting.

 

I think what captivated me about the tale is the conceit that parents have lives before they have their children, ones that the children can never imagine or will never consider. Philippe's parents had a turbulent life before him and it affects him and his life so directly.

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clearly focusing on the father rather than Philippe himself
More significantly, it focuses on Patrick Bruel, formerly a teen heart-throb soi-disant singer, now stolidly reinventing himself as a soi-disant actor.

 

Hazel, I think you're spot on in what you say about lives-before-children... and the devastating effect revelations about them can have on kids, vulnerable or otherwise.

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More significantly, it focuses on Patrick Bruel, formerly a teen heart-throb soi-disant singer, now stolidly reinventing himself as a soi-disant actor.

 

 

Is it a still from the film, then? He didn't just pose for the cover?

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It must be a still from the film - but isn't it a stilted-looking still?

Bruel obviously plays the role of the father, Maxime, and the blonde woman (Cécile De France, I think) must be the narrator's mother.

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