Saturday, February 03, 2007

Third Day Book Report: Secret Smile

I was singularly unimpressed with the first several chapters of Secret Smile, thinking that Helen Fielding did a more amusing job of telling about the love lives of young English women in Bridget Jones's Diary. But the book grew on me as I persisted and by the end I thought it was a "good read."

The book is written by committee, a husband/wife team using the pseudonymn, Nicci French, which comes from their real names, Nicci Gerrard and Sean French, two British journalists and authors. I do not know how they divide up their authorial tasks, but the book reads as if different parts of it could have been written by two people. The beginning, which is banal, and the end, which is implausible, collectively seem to me to be the weakest parts of the book. Some of the British vernacular is unfamiliar to American readers, but the context usually provides the interpretation.

The plot, summarized, is that a brief boyfriend, Brandon, comes back into the life of the heroine, Miranda, through her sister, Kerry, whom he woos and wins a few weeks after Miranda dumped him. Brandon quickly wins over not only Kerry but the rest of Miranda's family and then manipulates her into allowing him to ruin her life. In the end Miranda thwarts Brandon but the way she does it seems highly unlikely.

Actually, if we're talking about versimilitude, the whole story seems highly unlikely. Miranda is a strong young woman, working as a home remodeler and decorator, hardly a shrinking violet, yet allows Brandon to bully her, through her family, into giving up her apartment, her new boyfriend, her best friend and peace of mind. The reader keeps waiting for Miranda to put her foot down and say, "No," When she finally does, through the aid of an accomplice, not enough of the back story of the accomplice is given to make it plausible that the accomplice would actually help Miranda when no one else, her family, the police, her friends, would do so.

Despite my criticisms, the book was well enough written to be a pleasant way to divert a few hours. It is a psychological thriller, and the authors do a good job of building suspense. You know, as Miranda appears to be taking charge of her life again, that the next move in Brandon's crazy game is about to happen. The authors do not telegraph what is to come and so, like in real life, the next blow comes out of the blue. And Brandon always wins and gives her that "secret smile." Well, almost always. I thought the book was above average, and so gave it four out of five stars.


sarala said...

I'm glad someone else read it. I'd give it more like a 3/5 I guess even though it was enjoyable. I didn't know the book was team written. I avoid team written books because it rarely seems to work. Thanks for the background.

Patry Francis said...

You didn't really think I'd forget, did you? Excellent review as usual. I agree with you that the middle was the strongest part of the novel. There was a lot of deadwood in the opening chapters that would have sent my agent screaming "Cut! Cut! Cut!" The ending didn't work for me either

Tarakuanyin said...

I didn't read it. I've been too busy this quarter. I'm glad you wrote a review, though, because now I know it doesn't sound like a book I want to read!

steve said...

I got through the first well-written page and then went back to the blurb on the flyleaf. I decided I had enough tension in my own life without churning up more stomach acid while reading. Your review suggests I made the right choice in reading about Anglican spirituality instead.

Amishlaw said...

Sarala and Patry, I think our reactions were similar. Readers can read Patry's and Sarala's and other reviews at the page for the Third Day Book Club.

Tarakuanyin and Steve, I'm sorry if my review has kept you from reading the book. It is not that bad. It's just not fantastic, like last month's book, Suite Francaise.