Lisa's Reviews > The Secret Son

The Secret Son by Jenny  Ackland
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James, a quiet, thoughtful beekeeper, grows up wondering who his father was and ends up fighting on the shores of Gallipoli. Years later, Cem returns to the village in Turkey that was once home to his parents and grandfather, trying to find himself, as an old woman prepares to speak the truth. These seemingly unconnected people are tied together by blood and secrets.

Layer upon layer of secrets are found in Jenny Ackland's The Secret Son. Perhaps the biggest secret for me was the question of whether this book was good – it was a question I pondered soon after beginning the book and hoped to have an answer for when I finished. I don't.

Ackland's settings are well-developed and striking in their own way, and the story she sketches out intriguing at least. I particularly liked the early chapters, detailing James's upbringing in Beechworth during the 1880s. But the one word I keep wanting to describe this book with is "muted". Every time I picked up the book, I felt I was skimming the surface. I believed there was a rich, vivid world underneath it, but I just couldn't see it.

The characters are certainly verging on the complex side of things, but, again, the impression I get is vague – once again, muted. I never felt as though I knew them. Their decisions felt unfathomable, their behaviour and motives impenetrable. It didn't help that Ackland's structure spans several decades, so that while we meet familiar faces, they feel utterly alien compared to where they were when we last met them, seventy or so years ago.

In fact, Ackland's structure works against her in another way. Jumping between characters, timelines and storylines to lead up to the climatic revelations felt alienating – just as I was beginning to be caught up in James's story, I'm introduced to Cem and just as I'm being swept away by Cem's story, I'm sent back to James then forwards to Berna then back to Cem and so on. Granted, Ackland is restricted by the need to hold back the secrets that these past narratives reveal and I did find these storylines alone engaging, but I felt like I couldn't get a firm grip on anyone's story because of I kept being whisked off into someone else's story.

The ending, for me, felt a bit – confused? Disjointed? I felt as though I was waiting for the storylines to converge in a major way, but they never quite made it there. Each character has their own satisfying conclusion, though.

A final note, this time focusing on the Ned Kelly angle this book takes (and the reason why I picked it up in the first place), I found that Ackland's presentation of the history to be thought-provoking and fits in well with the historical evidence. Ackland has clearly done her research and incorporated it within her story well. I admit to making the sobering realisation that most fiction about Ned Kelly is about him (or features him) having a secret lover and/or child, which is tiring, but The Secret Son at least, does something vastly different with that old trope.

During the early stages of reading The Secret Son, I noted that I couldn't actually decide whether it was good or wishy-washy. I still don't know, but I feel that The Secret Son intrigued me enough to want to read more of Ackland's work.
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Reading Progress

July 1, 2016 – Shelved
July 1, 2016 – Shelved as: to-read
July 1, 2016 – Shelved as: general-fiction
July 1, 2016 – Shelved as: ned-kelly
July 1, 2016 – Shelved as: australian
July 1, 2016 – Shelved as: aussie-hist-fic
January 20, 2017 – Started Reading
January 20, 2017 –
page 37
January 20, 2017 –
page 100
January 21, 2017 –
page 139
41.37% "Can't decide whether this is good or wishy-washy. Hmm."
January 22, 2017 – Finished Reading
January 23, 2017 – Shelved as: world-war-i-fiction
June 4, 2017 – Shelved as: bushrangers
April 30, 2018 – Shelved as: reviewed

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