1945, the war has ended and Nancy and her husband Joe leave their military roles to live with his family. Nancy expected to be working but her new family want her to stay home to complete domestic tasks and bear children. Her heart loongs for the value and purpose she felt during the war. Present day, Lorna is struggling to cope as a widow with two small children. She goes to stay with her mother and discovers a secret diary hidden in her room. It belonged to Nancy, her step-grandmother…
The Secret Diary is a wonderful dual timeline historical novel set in the 1940s and modern day, showing the lives of two women as they struggle to adjust to changes in their personal lives.
Nancy and Lorna are both endearing and likeable lead characters. They are also both incredibly relatable and authentic so I felt able to identify and empathise with both as their situations develop. Sometimes when I read this type of narrative, I feel drawn to one timeline over another but in this book I was completely immersed in both eras.
The book is written in the third person perspective although we do have Nancy’s diary entries which are written in the first person. The use of the diary shows us what Lorna is reading and allows us extra insights into Nancy’s emotions.
I felt frustrated and even angry at Nancy’s husband Joe for falling in love with her and then expecting her to change and conform to social norms of the time. In contrast, Lorna has the support of her family and friends as she struggles to cope with her grief. The characterisation in both eras is so believable that I felt an emotional connection with both of the women’s experiences.
The Secret Diary was a hugely enjoyable book about the lives and loves of two women, separated by time but both overcoming obstacles to their happiness. I have previously reviewed The Berlin Zookeeper by Anna Stuart.
The Secret Diary book description:
Two women. One house. And a wartime secret that spans decades…
Norfolk, 1945: Only a few months ago Nancy Jones was fighting for her country as a gunner girl. Now she’s struggling to adjust to her responsibilities as a gamekeeper’s wife. After a whirlwind romance, Nancy is deeply in love with her handsome husband Joe but there is still so much they don’t know about each other. When a secret from Nancy’s war years threatens to resurface, will the terrible truth about the worst night of her life shatter their new marriage?
Norfolk, 2019: Devastated by the sudden loss of her husband, Lorna Haynes escapes to the beautiful but crumbling Gamekeeper’s Cottage. There, she stumbles upon a locked room. When she enters, it’s like going back in time. A soldier’s uniform hangs on the back of the door, the flowery wallpaper still intact, the spindle of the record player frozen and ready to play. At the back of the room, Lorna discovers a red, leather-bound diary in a hidden compartment of a desk drawer.
As Lorna battles with heartache, she takes comfort in reading the ink-stained words. Turning the pages of the old book, she learns of the incredible bravery of the woman who lived in the house decades before her. And discovers a shocking wartime secret that will change the course of her own life…
Fans of The Nightingale, The Alice Network, and Lilac Girls will love this unforgettable, poignant tale of love, loss and courage during the darkest days of war.
Anna Stuart lives in Derbyshire with her campervan-mad husband, two hungry teenagers and a slightly loopy dog. She was hooked on books from the moment she first opened one in her cot so is thrilled to now have several of her own to her name. Having studied English literature at Cambridge university, she took an enjoyable temporary trip into the ‘real world’ as a factory planner, before returning to her first love and becoming an author. History has also always fascinated her. Living in an old house with a stone fireplace, she often wonders who sat around it before her and is intrigued by how actively the past is woven into the present, something she likes to explore in her novels. Anna loves the way that writing lets her ‘try on’ so many different lives, but her favourite part of the job is undoubtedly hearing from readers. You can reach her on Facebook @annastuartauthor or Twitter @annastuartbooks.