BOOK REVIEW: Sworn Secret by Amanda Jennings

I was gripped. For several happy, nostalgic, weepy hours. I almost fell out with my OH when he asked me to BATH OUR CHILDREN while he MADE THEIR BEDS. I really was cross when he said I had to WALK THE SODDING DOG just because he’d MADE SUPPER for everyone. Apparently, my pleasure counts for NOTHING in our household. Doesn’t he realise that reading a good book IN A ONER is a HUMAN RIGHT?

I love a good book. It’s more than a mere pleasure for me. It’s an escape, it might even be cathartic, if I’ve got the meaning of the word correct, and it’s an all-too-rare joy in my life.

I was looking forward to my friend (yeah, I’m claiming that) Amanda Jennings’s first novel coming out. I heard her read an extract which was moving all on its own. But, you know, you never know until you’ve got the book in your hand. I was sort of hoping it would be brilliant, so I wouldn’t have to lie. But I was sort of hoping it would be a bit meh because then, you know, it might be easier for me to write and publish a book.

I don’t have to lie.

Sworn Secret is a moving exploration of the possibility and power (for good and ill) of different types of love and passion. That’s what it is to me. It is many other things. It’s about a mother’s loss of a daughter and the family’s fight to survive the ripping grief of that. As a mother I couldn’t fail to be moved by the story. Amanda is an acute observer of human behaviour (remind me to be careful around her) and the emotions she evokes on the page are raw and real. All parents worth the title fear the loss of their children more than anything in the world and Amanda shows us vividly why.

I responded most viscerally to the optimism within the story. Relief always makes me cry.

Amanda tells this story with immense courage. She looks at it very straightly and tells it truthfully, giving all the actors in it their own stories and their points of view, even the more despicable ones, or perhaps especially them. There are baddies and goodies but none of them wholly either – they’re all three-dimensional, at different places on the spectrum of good and evil. There’s a lot to think about at the end of this book. I have admittedly only just put it down, but I know I’ll return to the story and the characters and spend time mulling with them.

I don’t know what it’s worth for me to say that I think this book is beautifully written. That is surely implicit in the words above. That Amanda can evoke these characters and make me cry for them, that she can compel me to sit on my sofa on a beautiful sunny afternoon when there’s lots of excellent telly, that’s good writing, surely? I found it enjoyably easy to read and I know from my own attempts that that’s a difficult difficult thing to achieve.

Amanda’s writing is generous. She trusts us to pay attention, to ‘get’ the story. She shows rather than tells all the key bits. Also, her words don’t call attention to themselves. She does not indulge herself in showy phrase-making. She allows us to enjoy her story without demanding that we pay attention to the way she’s written it.

For a writer, that’s perhaps the greatest, and most stylish, act of courage.

Buy it. You’ll love it. I did.

WARNING: you may forget about bathtime. And supper.

Sworn Secret is published by Canvas Books. You can buy it here in paperback and here for kindle

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Posted in characters, creativity, literature, reading, Writing, writing novels

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