Skeleton in the Cupboard
I have always been fascinated by the dynamics of families and the relationships between family members. Perhaps this is why I love reading sagas and try to write them myself. The way family members act and react towards one another is fascinating - often surprising and sometimes shocking! Is it nature or nurture that makes a person behave in a certain way? Can you inherit someone's personality and temperament in the same way as you do their physical characteristics? Are those personality traits embedded from birth or can they change in a different environment?
Many novels, not necessarily only sagas, involve a secret - 'a skeleton in the cupboard' - that is never discussed and is hidden away for generations. The big reveal is often the crux of the story and is what makes the reader keep turning the pages. For some years, I subscribed to 'Your Family Tree', a family history magazine. In each publication, the back page feature was always devoted to a 'Skeleton in the Cupboard!' Readers were invited to send in an article of 700 words telling of a secret in their own families. They ranged from keeping mistresses and adultery, bigamy, murder, imprisonment, debt, sexual and physical abuse. The list was endless. In the past, secrets about illegitimacy, disability and insanity were all considered to bring shame on the family and family members who were disabled or suffering from mental illness would be hidden away. Fictional accounts of similar family situations find their way into many of our stories.
Here are a few novels I've thoroughly enjoyed reading that have secrets at their heart:
'A Time for Silence' by Thorne Moore.
Publisher: Honno Welsh Women's Press
ISBN -13: 978-1906784454
The main character, Sarah, stumbles across her grandparents' ruined farm and begins to delve into her family history. She learns that her grandfather had been murdered but no one had told her. She determines to find out what happened but perhaps there are some family secrets that should never be revealed.
'A Simple Life' by Rosie Thomas
Publisher: Harper Collins (now an e-book)
The main character, Dinah Shepherd, has a shameful secret that has haunted her for fifteen years. She has a comfortable family life with her two sons but a choice she and her husband made all those years before is never referred to. She finally decides to confront the truth and risks everything to claim what is rightfully hers.
'The Kashmir Shawl' by Rosie Thomas
Publisher: Harper Collins
When Mair Ellis clears out her father's house, she finds an antique shawl with a lock of child's hair wrapped up in its folds. Tracing her family history back to a time spent in Kashmir where her grandparents were missionaries, Mair uncovers a story of doomed love and great sacrifice.
'The Hand That First Held Mine' by Maggie O'Farrell
Publisher: Tinder Press
A dual narrative, the story tells of Lexi Sinclair carving a new life for herself in London, at the heart of the 1950s art scene. In the parallel story, fifty years later, Ted is disturbed to realise that memories of his childhood do not tally with his parents' version of events. His search for answers lead to uncovering a secret that had been hidden from him.
In my own novels, secrets play an important part, too. In 'A Mother's Secret', details about forbidden love, illegitimacy and imprisonment for Black Market dealing are kept well hidden from the younger generations of the family. In novel two, 'Whispering Olive Trees', secrets about a young woman's time spent in Greece involving a love affair, murder and drug dealing only come to light after her death when she bequeaths her diary to her daughter.
What novel involving a family secret or 'skeleton in the cupboard' have you read and enjoyed? I'd love to hear your recommendations. Thank you.
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