Monday, 5 September 2016

Review - The Secret Wife by Gill Paul

In all honesty I don’t tend to read historical fiction but really couldn’t resist the sound of The Secret Wife by Gill Paul. This is an absolutely breathtaking novel that was beautifully written from beginning to end. I’d go so far as to say that this is the best book I’ve read all year and all I can hope is that this review will do this incredible book the justice it fully deserves. 

The Secret Wife is a novel that is told to us via a dual narrative, the first taking place in the modern day and the second told between 1914 and 1986. In September 1914 we meet Dmitri Malama in Russia who has been badly injured during the war. One day, Grand Duchess Tatiana arrives at his bedside who is not only a nurse at the hospital but also a member of the Romanov family. It doesn’t take long for the pair to realise that they have feelings for eachother and through their love story which spans decades we follow the lives of the Romanovs in Russia and beyond. 

Meanwhile, almost 100 years after Dmitri’s story starts, we meet Kitty in 2016. Experiencing difficulties in her own relationship she learns that she’s inherited a cabin near Lake Akanabee. Deciding to leave London far behind and travel over to America to locate the cabin it’s not long before she starts to uncover the secrets that lie behind it. How is both it and she herself connected to Dmitri and Tatiana? 

Normally what I find with novels that are told via dual narratives is that I prefer one more than I do the other. However that was absolutely not the case with this tale as both narratives were so strong and both equally gripping. This was probably why I managed to fly through this novel in under 24 hours - I was eager to find out what would happen next for Dmitri and Tatiana and wanted to see what Kitty would discover next about the cabin and her own history. It really was compelling. 

I went into The Secret Wife with very little idea of what to expect and very little knowledge/understanding of the era in which this novel was set and particularly the Romanov family. However, I found the whole thing to be truly fascinating and feel that it was an incredible learning experience. When I think of historical fiction I tend to think of something that is complex, in-depth and difficult to understand which is probably why I don’t read very much of the genre. Gill Paul proved that this is most definitely not the case, having created something that was so easy to both read and become immersed in to the point I lost all track of time and thought of little else whilst I was reading it. 

The Secret Wife was a sensational masterpiece that I could not get enough of. I highly recommend this book to absolutely anyone and everyone and just know that I will be catching up on Gill’s previous books very soon. This is a book that you do not want to miss under any circumstance and if you want to see what all the fuss is about why not read a brief extract from chapter 1 below?


‘I keep a journal. I try to describe events of the day truthfully. I like the challenge of finding exactly the right words and often they come to me when I am doing something completely different: working here in the hospital, or doing my embroidery, or . . .’ Tatiana stopped, colouring slightly.
He liked the way she spoke, slowly, considering her words, and the intelligence he could see in her eyes. ‘In that case you have the instincts of a writer.’

She laughed. ‘Oh, I could hardly pretend . . . no one reads my journal but me.’
‘Without an audience, you can express your truest feelings. I used to find writing very useful for understanding myself. You know how sometimes you react instinctively in ways that puzzle you? You think: why am I angry? Why does that make me sad? It’s fascinating to unravel the tiny spark that provoked the reaction, perhaps just an unintended nuance, something that struck a chord and triggered the emotion of a much earlier experience . . . human nature is the most compelling study of all.’ He stopped, feeling he was talking too much and perhaps boring her, but she seemed to be listening intently.
‘I know exactly what you mean,’ she said, biting her lip as if some example were flitting unseen through her mind. 
Dmitri watched, thinking what an open, natural girl she appeared to be. He had expected the tsar’s daughters to be haughty and sophisticated, like the grandest ladies of the St Petersburg aristocracy, but Tatiana did not seem to have any airs. She spoke to him as if to an equal.
‘Nurse Romanova Three,’ a woman called from the doorway. 
‘I’m coming, Sister Chebotareva.’ She gave Dmitri a quick, warm smile, said, ‘Till tomorrow,’ then hurried from the ward.

Dmitri watched her go with a smile on his lips, having completely forgotten his pain. He wondered what age Tatiana must be, then worked out that she was seventeen, six years younger than him. In her manner she seemed younger still. And she was much more beautiful than he had ever imagined when he’d seen her from a distance. Her skin was creamy perfection, her eyes like deep pools, her lips stained as if by wild berries . . . If she had not been a Romanov, Dmitri would have flirted with her. Over his years in the imperial guard he had made a number of conquests amongst the young titled ladies of St Petersburg, although none had captured his interest for long. But here, he thought, here was a girl he could easily fall in love with.