The Book of Secrets: A Novel

The Book of Secrets: A Novel - Elizabeth Arnold Chloe has been unhappily married to Nate for some time. At this stage of their life, they are facing a marital problem encountered by many - distance. Though she is surrounded by her passion, in an antiquated bookstore owned by the two, Chloe feels empty. After a tragedy struck years ago, nothing has been the same for the Sinclair couple. The two have known each other since childhood - or so Chloe thinks. This changes when Nate takes a sudden absence, leaving a trail of literary clues that reveal things Chloe has never known about her husband's past. Told in Chloe's perspective, in alternating times as her present self and as a child, The Book of Secrets is an unveiling, and a disoriented one at that.Though I certainly sympathized with Chloe for her decaying marriage, she proved to be a selfish character, doing questionable things, that made me dislike her. I also found her to be very dense. Of course, just because a character is utterly unlikeable, it does not mean that his or her characterization is shoddy. Unfortunately, a low of this entire novel for me is its characterization. I never felt that I had enough information about either character. Whatever I learnt of each character was repeatedly portrayed to the point of exhaustion.  Nate, who is the epicenter of the mystery in The Book of Secrets, is a murky character, and I enjoyed that readers got to learn some details of his woeful past. albeit the incessant repetition. As for Chloe, I found her to be too passive a protagonist; she is always reacting to the plot and never driving it. Though I did appreciate her flashback narratives, I still felt that she was underdeveloped. The same applied to the secondary characters in both alternate times, whether it was the overbearing Sinclair patriarch or Nathan's conservative sister, Grace.Seeing that this book is a mystery, the plot is certainly not impressionable with its slow pacing. It is stalled by lengthy flashbacks - often going off tangent to explore occurrences already closely-depicted. I find that this inactivity in the plot left my eyes glazing, though many a time I definitely pitied Nathan's childhood situation and his being an absentee father. I also felt that there was little suspense in The Book of Secrets, given that the eponymous object carries all the answers in code. While it is nice to see a cryptic approach to the mystery, I found the deciphering to be boring and unbelievable. There was just so much beating around the bush (ie. Nate's evasiveness, Chloe's guilt trips) in The Book of Secrets, that I just could not grapple the intended intensity of the mystery, I guess.  I found it all cumbersome.Admittedly, I did find redemption in Arnold's writing. However, it was never consistent. One minute I was in awe of lofty passages, and later they were marred by pretentious or convoluted language. The dialogue fell flat as well, but this can be attributed to the somberness that dominates the atmosphere in The Book of Secrets. Of course, what I really appreciated was the homage to outstanding literary texts. The literary allusions and bookish chapter titles were seamlessly used in the plot. I do think the fantastical happiness that Nathan and his siblings found in literature is what made him a book-lover. Juxtaposed to main characters' lives of hurt and loss, literature is a safe haven, a place where children and adults go to seek refuge in times of distress. That is the pivotal message that I got from The Book of Secrets amidst its unhidgedness.In a nutshell, I picked up The Book of Secrets by Elizabeth Joy Arnold for its literary references. I enjoy reading the 'books about books' genre; however, The Book of Secrets proved to be a stark exception. I found myself often frustrated by its obscurity in both plot development, characterization, and writing. Eponymously based on secrets, The Book of Secrets failed to engage me, albeit its promising traits.Pros:Literary allusions // Theme: Literature as an escape from reality // Lofty Language (1/2)Cons:Slow Pacing // Repetitiveness // Weak characterization // Dull mystery // Droning narrative // Convoluted Language (2/2)This review first appeared on Oh, Chrys! and is based on an advance copy obtained from the publisher in exchange for an honest review./b>