Portal to the Pages

A quick glimpse into my thoughts on various fiction

The Secret Child – Marti Healy

on February 4, 2013
Book cover of "The Secret Child" by Marti Healy

The Secret Child

The Secret Child is quite a short book, coming in at only 196 pages, however it should not be dismissed as lacking in content. This was another one of those books where I had never heard of the author or the book beforehand, so it was a little bit of a risk but I am so glad I took a chance on it!

Set in South Caroline in 1855, The Secret Child follows the escapades of Marika, a young girl who is a member of the Irish Travelling Community. The book opens with Marika and her brother’s journey to another clan within the Travelling Community, as Marika has been promised in marriage to the clan’s leader. However, things soon go awry as her brother falls ill and is taken in some villagers near to where Marika’s new clan resides. Marika then makes the decision to abandon her arranged marriage, at least temporarily. She takes refuge in a nearby forest and soon finds herself drawn into a mystical world, which she had previously only heard tell of in stories.

I hope that synopsis isn’t too vague but I really didn’t want to spoil anything as the book is quite short. With regards to the story as a whole, I enjoyed it but there were times when it seemed a little simplistic or predictable. Oddly enough, the simplistic story didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book as a whole, bar one dramatic scene near the end of the book that felt a little anticlimactic. The reason that this book still stands up as a whole is a result of the beautiful, lyrical descriptions that are peppered throughout every chapter.

Something as simple as winter changing to spring was imagined as a symphony of growth and colour that really drew you into the setting of the book and added a feeling of magic to otherwise ordinary happenings.

Despite how much I loved the descriptions in this book, they never took over. I remember when reading Homer’s Odyssey, another book with wonderful descriptions, there would be pages and pages of descriptions of one particular setting or key object before anything would actually happen, which turned it from a thing of beauty to tedium. The Secret Child manages to avoid this pitfall and uses the descriptions to either draw you in at the start of a chapter or enhance the events within the chapter.

An interesting aspect of The Secret Child is, naturally, Marika’s Irish heritage. As I am Irish myself, I paid particular interest to how she was portrayed (as most people do when their nationality is portrayed as an outsider). At times throughout the book, Marika slips into speaking as Gaeilge [in Irish], which I felt was a particularly nice touch. The phrases she uses are all quite simple, so they would be easily understood by anyone who has ever studied Irish, even those who just have a cúpla focail [couple of words]. However, understanding Irish is not necessary anyway as all her phrases are translated on the page also!

Due to the setting of The Secret Child, it is impossible for the story to be told without reference to slavery or the upcoming civil war. Again, these themes do not take over the story, but they are present throughout. Marika struggles to understand the motivations of slave owners, as her clan did not partake in slavery so she had never experienced it before. The book briefly touches on the cruelty of some slave owners, as well as some of the laws that exist regarding slavery. This stood as a good contrast to the magical world Marika inhabited, as it brought a stark view of reality to the forefront.

In general, I really enjoyed reading The Secret Child. It’s a great book for immersing yourself in another world, but I wouldn’t suggest it as a book to learn more about the trials and struggles of slavery, but I don’t think it was intended to be viewed as such anyway. What The Secret Child does do, however, is show you a world that could exist just out of reach, and then it drags you right into the middle of it. All in all, a beautiful read.

Sinead

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