THE SECRET YEARS
Author: Barbara Hannay
Michael Joseph Australia RRP $32.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
The Secret Years was my introduction to the writing of Barbara Hannay – and a pleasurable introduction it was, too. I’m a sucker for books about family secrets so this story of forbidden love and its generational impacts attracted my interest from the moment it was pitched by the writer’s publicist.
The story merges past and present as present-day protagonist Lucy Hunter tries to uncover the mystery of her background. She’s just returned from an overseas deployment to find her mother’s sold up and moved in with a new man and her fiancé’s a sexist jerk, so she’s at a bit of a loose end when she decides to sort through some of her grandfather’s things. Among the war memorabilia she finds a faded photograph of a stunning young woman known simply as ‘George’ and a series of heartfelt letters. Who is George and what did she mean to Harry?
Switching between the viewpoints of Lucy and George (the Honourable Georgina Lenton), The Secret Years unravels the mystery of Lucy’s family history, taking readers from wartime London to England’s rugged south coast, from tropical, lush New Guinea to steamy Townsville to the harsh, wild beauty of a north Queensland cattle station. It’s a beautifully developed story of forbidden love between an Aussie cattleman and a titled debutante, the child who felt like she didn’t belong, and a young woman who is trying to put all the pieces together. The Secret Years is also a love story – or a series of generational love stories borne from one great love – between lovers, spouses, a father and daughter, and a mother and daughter.
Hannay delivers readers a heartfelt and emotive story with themes of heroism, homecoming, belonging, family ties and war impacts all wrapped up in warmhearted narrative and descriptive settings. She’s gifted at taking readers on a visual world tour with her protagonists, and at drawing out the strengths and weaknesses in her characters in a way that makes them accessible and believable. I did find myself wanting to know more about Rose’s life – she’s greatly affected by the relationship between Harry and George, but the insight into why she flits from man to man only comes at the end.
This novel made me teary at a couple of points and snagged my historical interest at others (I’m quite partial to reading about wartime and debutantes). The sticker on the front says it’s a “guaranteed great read” and I’ll vouch for that.
Available from good bookstores. My copy was courtesy of Penguin Books Australia.