Can You Keep a Secret?
by Sophie Kinsella
Well, can you? OK, here’s my confession: I read chick lit. Sure, it’s considered “fluffy” by some, unthinking, shallow, blah blah blah. I’ve heard it all and—wait, rewind! No, no, I’m not going to say I don’t read in this genre. The reality is that it’s not a secret!
Here’s what many people don’t really know about me (this is not a secret, either): finishing a great book is an accomplishment. I don’t carry on for days about it, or often bring it up, but once I close the back cover, there’s a positive sensation of completion as I think back about the world I’ve just inhabited for a while. I feel like I’ve achieved an understanding, perhaps a valuable observation that takes weight off my mind, rather than adds to everything else I have to carry in there.
As I finished Sophie Kinsella’s Can You Keep a Secret? I was still smiling, thinking about how funny we humans can be, and Kinsella’s skill at tapping into that. There’s the klutzy heroine with her ditzy moments, hunky male, challenging (read: mean) colleagues and sticky situations. But we also see Emma Corrigan’s humanity shine through as her embarrassment peaks, her explanations stumble and she goes home utterly humiliated. Also visible are her intelligence and justified resentment, the determined dignity she insists upon when others’ actions—intended or not—threaten to strip it from her. Within all that, we also see ourselves.
The novel opens to Emma’s daydreaming about her secrets during a Glasgow business meeting she’s flown from London to attend—attendance she’d achieved through a mixture of persuasion and dumb luck—and its grand and devastating conclusion as she inadvertently sprays a Panther Cola spinoff drink all over the client representative her marketing firm has just lost. On the way home her devastation is paired with abject terror as the plane encounters some clear-air turbulence, resulting in minor injuries to some passengers. Already not a fan of flying, she begins to spill all her secrets to an American sitting nearby, who later turns out to be the elusive CEO of the company she works for, Panther Corporation. As her two worlds begin to collide hilarity ensues, as does some serious reckoning.
About midway through the novel I realized Emma was telling her story in present tense, which I don’t have any hard and fast rule against, as do some; my surprise came from the length of time it took to recognize. About a month or two ago I read a work of historical fiction whose clunky present tense contributed to slowdown of an otherwise well-woven tale. Here, however, I found myself practically speeding through the pages as I could barely wait to find out what would happen next.
Kinsella’s main characters are well developed—with the exception of the handsome stranger and one of Emma’s flatmates, both for very distinctive reasons—and there’s a poignancy within that adds rather than takes away from the plot because the author’s management style knows not only when to restrain an angle or move it into another direction. She also captures nuance with some exclamation point usage that indicates Emma’s own self-awareness, and enough introspection that keeps her persona authentic.
Anyone who has ever experienced any of this author’s other novels will recognize a formula, but what is discussed above is only part of what makes it work—and Kinsella engages that magic repeatedly. She knows how to create charming characters whose actions are believable and relatable, never recycling phrases or mishaps, and brings us back to her themes with subtly and brilliantly woven scenarios.
Though the book is fourteen years old, the angles of aiming for honesty and genuine communication, along with a repeat evaluation of how often any of us fall into a mob-mentality of mean-spirited piling on remain timely— perhaps more so than ever. The author also presents them without lecturing and really gets it right with hilarious blow ups and serious letdowns alike. Her characters are likeable (well, except that horrible Jemima!) and it’s a fun, relaxing and rewarding yarn, and not just as a break in between serious reading. Kinsella scores again with Can You Keep a Secret? and when it comes to great tales, this is one readers should most definitely not keep close to the vest.
Also recently read and recommend by Sophie Kinsella: My Not So Perfect Life