Secret Smile – Nicci French

26 Feb

Female writers do not need to lean over to chick lit for to create believable female protagonists; you won’t find a male writer doing this. In this case it is not a female writer, nor a male writer, but rather the joint writing skills of married couple Nicci Gerrard and Sean French. Billed as ‘French’s most chilling novel yet,’ Secret Smile has the potential of a thriller, with love and revenge of a romance. So why write it like chick lit?

Miranda Cotton thinks she’s put boyfriend Brendan out of her life for good. But two weeks later, he’s intimately involved with her sister. Soon what began as an embarrassment becomes threatening – then even more terrifying than a girl’s worst nightmare. Because this time Brendan will stop at nothing to be part of Miranda’s life – even if it means taking it from her…

Yes, it does hold some thriller aspects, but I am more concerned with the characterisation. The representation of Miranda depicts a fiercely, independent, level-headed woman. Working as a painter and decorator for her uncle, she owns her own flat and enjoys her own company. She has a settled group of friends and a loving family.

When Brendan reappears and Miranda relays her fears to friends and family, they turn their backs on her, accusing Miranda of jealousy. This for the reader is the first stumbling block. Miranda is not portrayed as the jealous type, so why would those closest to her, believe she is?

Later in the story, even the police treat Miranda with contempt, leaving you rolling your eyes at the poor plotting. The forcefulness of Miranda’s rejection leaves a bitter taste on your tongue – sympathy for her, whilst shocked by French’s audacity to think that this could be viewed as plausible.

Then, in true Bridget Jones style, Miranda, forced to take matters into her own hands, and fed up with the despair and repetitive events in her life starts doing exercise. I half expected French to start telling me Miranda’s weight at the start of each chapter.

The whole idea was for the reader to question Miranda’s sanity. Were Brendan’s actions all in her head? I won’t lie, this did work to an extent, but I feel it could have been better. I will also admit that I enjoyed all the characters; it was the way they interacted that left me confused. The emotion depicted was very real, but it was hard to gauge a sense of place when you are constantly second guessing how the characters will react, and then asking why?

As the story unfolded, Miranda fell into trap after trap and the writing became cliché. Most disappointing, was the ending. I wouldn’t have expected the twist, but it was still decidedly flat. Exactly what I would expect from chick lit, not a thriller.

For a new French reader, this could be an enjoyable read. But for those of us familiar with the work, this feels rushed and not executed to the high standard we have come to expect.

Warner, June 2004, 24.00, 308 pp.            
ISBN 0446533475 

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