We all love a juicy secret. It seems that authors are particularly keen on them; hidden romances, secret selves, and concealed codes have featured heavily in literature for centuries, and for a reason. But secrets should come with a warning. If you are harbouring something you shouldn’t, take your pick from these four cautionary tales to show you the consequence of camouflage.
We Were the Mulvaney’s by Joyce Carol Oates
The sole daughter of a picture-perfect, picket-fence family is the victim of a hideous attack. Hushing up the event and banishing Marianne, the poor daughter, to avoid shame, transforms the family; they become splintered and each individual suffers. The youngest brother, Judd, now an adult, tells of the devastating aftermath of the concealed defilement. “It will consume you,” says the Washington Post Book World, just as the masquerade consumes the Mulvaney’s. Oates, author of The Sacrifice, sandwiches an exploration of the darkness of the human condition between a picturesque beginning and an end which gives proof of familial strength and compassion. A highly-relatable read, Oates has an “uncanny gift of making the page a window, with something on the other side that we’d swear was life itself.” (David Gates – New York Times Book Review)
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
Our most deviant secret-keeper, Dorian, conceals his sins by trading his soul for everlasting youth. Wilde explores the subject of debauchery and concealment, following young Dorian, a subject taken under Lord Henry’s depraved wing. We bear witness to Dorian’s metamorphosis: from “the stainless purity of his boyish life” to corrupt and excessive middle-agedness. In each stage, it’s hard not to be disgusted by him, but at the same time, ‘Wilde’-ly seduced by his allure. Though Dorian’s actions do not seem to outwardly harm him, they do anyone who spends any time with him, such as poor Sibyl Vane and Basil Hallward. Amongst all the glut and hurt, Wilde feeds our desire for pleasure with his exquisite writing. A cautionary and seductive tale.
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Warning! Not for the faint-hearted… Secrets are sometimes extremely bizarre and confusing. Some books are the same. I read The Wasp Factory when I was 13 and still haven’t quite got over it. The secret, exposed at the end of the book, was disclosed to me before even beginning the novel, and I was still shocked at its revelation. Frank, the 17-year old narrator, lives isolated with only his father; his half-brother is in a mental hospital, his mother is amiss, some of his other relatives, including his younger brother and two cousins, he murdered. (“It was just a stage I was going through.” He says.) In this disturbing novel, we are kept in the dark by the same young protagonist who so desperately tries to find out the secret his father is keeping from him. Absorbing and complex- definitely worth a read for those with a slightly stronger stomach.
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Amir, now a man, remembers his youth with shame. He recalls, with guilt, his cowardice regarding a sadistic attack on his best friend and servant, Hassan, a Hazara boy, which he fails to stop and decides to conceal in order to create a stronger bond with his father. Amir, out of guilt, not only destroys his relationship with Hassan, but also their fathers’ long-standing affiliation. Luckily, some good comes out of this in the end. Having grown up and moved to America, Amir is able to repent by rescuing now-dead Hassan’s son, Sohrab, from the clutches of an abusive Taliban officer. Set amongst turbulent historical events in the Greater Middle East and America, The Kite Runner is both a heart-wrenching and a heart-warming tale.
Words by Brooke Hollingbery
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