Title: The House of Secrets
Author: Sarra Manning
Genre: Historical Fiction/ Romance
Favourite Quote: “Even at their worst, their most estranged, that love had still been there, holding them together when nothing else could. But they were different people to who they’d been thirteen years ago. Different people to how they were a year ago even. They loved each other, but they still hadn’t fallen in love with the new people they’d become.”
Every so often I’d pick up a new bestseller that catches my eye, usually in a shop in passing that I’ll end up buying on my kindle a few days later. The House of Secrets was one of those books. It surprised me by how much I got into the story, even if it did start off very slow. I have to admit, I did put the book down for a week or so before finishing it but I’m glad I did. It was a real page turner towards the end!
It’s a story about Zoe and Libby, Zoe being a protagonist in the present day in 2016, and Libby being a protagonist in the 1930s. The story jumps around to each perspective from two people generations apart but with more in common that it seems, the main connection between them is their loss of their unborn baby.
Zoe and her husband Win have used all their assets to purchase a house in London which needed more work than they initially thought, in order to have a fresh start. The house was purchased brand new in the 1930s but never lived in so the whole property was taken on as a large project to keep them distracted. It all comes to a halt for Zoe when they discover an old suitcase left within the house with baby clothes, a wedding dress, papers and a diary. When Zoe started reading the diary, she discovered that the owner, a woman named Libby, had also recently lost a baby and was trying to move on. A connection that she couldn’t part with, Zoe soon became obsessed with Libby’s diary and felt she couldn’t get past her grief until she knew how Libby’s story ended.
“It had been one hell of a year and they’d both tried to deal with it, make sense of it in their own way. Zoe had found solace in her imagination, in telling stories. It was probably why she’d become so obsessed with Libby. The pages of her diary were another story to get lost in, why she was so desperate for Libby to have a happy ever after.”
With Zoe in the present reading her diary, you get to see Libby’s story unfold in her own perspective months after she had lost the baby. Libby lost her unborn child in Paris, her husband Freddy left her whilst she was still in the hospital bed and she ended up traveling back to England on her own to live in Freddy’s mother’s dark unwelcome house. His mother having no idea that her darling perfect son has left Libby, but believes he is assisting with the war in Spain. Libby takes life one day at a time but doesn’t let the past ruin her chance at a happy future even though she is still married to Freddy. She gets a job as a teacher and through a complicated circumstance, befriends a wealthy man called Hugo Watkins. They begin to rely on each other’s friendship to get through their own difficult times, and they soon want more. Both being unhappily married, it’s proven to be more difficult that they would like to secure their happy ever after together.
“It had been hard to draw this final line through their brief, unhappy union but Libby wasn’t the type of woman who would string two men along. Not when one man said he loved her and the other man couldn’t give a brass farthing for her affection. But still she had to pause to wonder why she was behaving like this. Being so shewish, so petuland, when she’d refused to make any claim on Hugo’s affections, only admitting that she loved him under duress. But who could blame her when her heart had been broken so many times? It was a miracle that it still worked at all.”
Zoe can’t help but resent Libby for her affair and feels more lost than before. The house and the loss of the baby has really taken its toll on her relationship with Win, she can’t help but break down over the emotional barrier they’ve put against themselves. It takes a collision with a dog up for adoption to test the remains of their marriage.
‘”They hardly talked at all on the way home. They’d been a tension between them that was so different from the tension of a relationship in turmoil, the awkward gaps, the silences, the things left unsaid. It was the kind of tension that made Zoe feel as taut as the telephone wires overhead, as they turned into Elysian Place.”
I really did enjoy this book, towards the end I just couldn’t put it down. The beginning did take a while to get be stuck in, Libby’s story started a bit slow and Zoe’s life was full of the repairs of the house that you couldn’t get stuck into the story but more so whether the boiler was working or not. It’s interesting to see the relationships change throughout the book for both Zoe and Win and Libby/ Hugo and Freddy. I won’t give the ending away but I’m very content with how the story finished.
Every home has a story to tell . . .
An ordinary house on an ordinary street, built in 1936 and never lived in. Its rooms might be empty, but this house is full of secrets.
When Zoe and Win, raw and reeling from a recent tragedy, move into their new home it’s meant to be a fresh start and a way to mend the holes in their relationship.
But pushed to the back of a cupboard is a suitcase that’s been gathering dust for eighty years. Inside is a wedding dress, letters and a diary all belonging to a woman called Libby. And there’s something else in the suitcase, something that echoes Zoe’s own pain.
Zoe follows Libby’s trail from Paris to Spain on the brink of Civil War to secret trysts in London, and as Libby finds the courage to live and love again, Zoe begins to let go of her own grief.
But when Libby’s story takes a darker turn, Zoe becomes increasingly obsessed with discovering what really happened all those years ago. Because if Libby managed to get her happy ever after then maybe Zoe and Win can too . . .