THE LOST ART OF KEEPING SECRETS

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9780755325504: THE LOST ART OF KEEPING SECRETS

Eva Rice, daughter of the famed lyricist Tim Rice, has written a captivating and wonderfully stylized novel about a group of friends in postwar London’s glamorous and daring young society.

With mannered prose dripping in the charm of 1950s London, TheLost Art of Keeping Secrets centers around Penelope, the wide-eyed daughter of a legendary beauty, Talitha, who is unable to move beyond the loss of her charmed husband to the war. Penelope, with her mother and brother, struggles to maintain their vast and crumbling ancestral home—and the lifestyle to which they have grown accustomed—while postwar London spins toward the next decade’s cultural revolution.

Penelope wants nothing more than to fall in love. When her new best friend, Charlotte, a free spirit in the young society set, drags Penelope into vibrant young London with all of its grand parties, she sets in motion great change for them all. Charlotte’s mysterious and attractive brother Harry plots to use Penelope to make his American ex-girlfriend jealous, with unforeseen consequences, until a dashing, wealthy American movie producer arrives with what might be the key to Penelope’s—and her family’s—future happiness.

Vibrant, witty, and filled with vivid historical detail, The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is an utterly unique debut novel about a time and place just slipping into history.

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About the Author:

EVA RICE is a writer and young mother living in London.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Table of Contents

Title Page

Copyright Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Epigraph

 

ONE - The Girl in the Green Coat

TWO - Aunt Clare and Harry

THREE - The Duck Supper

FOUR - Miss Six Foot Nothing

FIVE - Snowfall and Forty-fives

SIX - How to Live at Home and Like It

SEVEN - Me and the In-Crowd

EIGHT - All the Honey

NINE - Modern Boys and Guinea Pigs

TEN - Five O’Clock and Later

ELEVEN - My Beautiful Youth

TWELVE - Inigo Versus the World

THIRTEEN - The Long Gallery

FOURTEEN - Somebody Stole His Gal

FIFTEEN - Marina Trapped

SIXTEEN - The Intruder

SEVENTEEN - Drama in the Dining Room

EIGHTEEN - In the Garden and Out of Touch

NINETEEN - Such a Night

TWENTY - My American Heroes

TWENTY-ONE - The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

TWENTY-TWO - The Occasional Flicker

 

Epilogue

Afterword

A PLUME BOOK

THE LOST ART OF KEEPING SECRETS

EVA RICE, daughter of lyricist Tim Rice, is a writer, musician, and young mother living in London.

Praise for The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets is as stylish, rich, and skillfully tailored as a gorgeous 1950s vintage coat. . . . With its quirky characters and lush English settings, it made me long to have lived in the London Eva Rice has evoked.”

—Kate Harrison, author of The Starter Marriage

 

“[A] novel in which a time and place is recovered with enveloping atmosphere and characters who linger on in mind.”

New York Daily News

 

“Rice’s remarkable gift for creating singular characters in this memorable story underscores her presence as a fresh new voice in fiction.”

Publishers Weekly

 

“The reader becomes lost in the vivid depiction of 1950s London and Penelope’s romantic world, where a chance meeting can change your life forever.”—Library Journal

 

“You’ll be engrossed right through the novel’s tied-up-with-ribbons ending, where secrets are revealed, everyone pairs off with the person you least expect, and we all learn that all you need is love.”

—Daily Candy, Washington, D.C., edition

 

“Bright prospects all around.”—Kirkus Reviews

 

“Eva Rice . . . has a keen ear and eye for the charm, glamour, and nuances of 1950s British life.”—Bookreporter.com

“Charlotte is a wonderful protagonist whose evolution from a naive girl to a polished woman of the world (at least the Thames) makes for a fine sensitive tale.”—Midwest Book Review

 

“A brilliant portrait of post-World War II London.”

Historical Novels Review

 

“Charming and witty.”—School Library Journal

PLUME
Published by Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A.
Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3
(a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.)
Penguin Books Ltd., 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd.)
Penguin Group (Australia), 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia
(a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty. Ltd.)
Penguin Books India Pvt. Ltd., 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India
Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Mairangi Bay, Auckland 1311, New Zealand
(a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd.)
Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty.) Ltd., 24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa

 


Penguin Books Ltd., Registered Offices: 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England

 


Published by Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc. Previously published in a Dutton edition.

 


First Plume Printing, April 2007

 

Copyright © Eva Rice, 2006

All rights reserved

REGISTERED TRADEMARK—MARCA REGISTRADA

 

The Library of Congress has catalogued the Dutton edition as follows:
Rice, Eva, 1975-
The lost art of keeping secrets / Eva Rice.
p. cm.

eISBN : 978-1-101-01085-3

1. London (England)—Fiction. 2. Socialites—Fiction. 3. Friendship—Fiction. I. Title.
PR6118.I35L68 2006
823’.92—dc22 2005020738

 

 

Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

 

PUBLISHER’S NOTE

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

 

The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

BOOKS ARE AVAILABLE AT QUANTITY DISCOUNTS WHEN USED TO PROMOTE PRODUCTS OR SERVICES. FOR INFORMATION PLEASE WRITE TO PREMIUM MARKETING DIVISION, PENGUIN GROUP (USA) INC., 375 HUDSON STREET, NEW YORK, NEW YORK 10014.

For Donald “Capability” Rice,
who helped me invent Milton Magna

Acknowledgments

The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets would have floundered at the starting post if not for the following, so groveling thanks to: Claire Paterson, Eric Simonoff, Molly Beckett, Christelle Chamouton, Rebecca Folland and all at Janklow and Nesbitt, Harriet Evans (editor extraordinaire), Catherine Cobain, Georgina Moore and the brilliant team at Hodder Headline, the amazing Trena Keating, Emily Haynes and all at Dutton. Joanna Weinberg, Edward Sackville, Bee Ker, Paul Gambaccini, Ray Flight (who knows his Teds), Tim Rice, my grandmother Joan Rice, my mother Jane (who is nothing at all like Talitha), and Donald Rice, whose knowledge of great country houses is unrivaled.

 

Bouquets to Ann Lawlor (who was there at the Palladium when Johnnie Ray played), Sue Paterson, for having the foresight never to throw away her brilliant fifties magazines, Petrus, Martha, and Swift. I would also like to acknowledge Ruby Ferguson as a great inspiration.

She said that we must do something about the rooms.
The walls were all damp and fur had settled on some
parts of the wallpaper. But we just closed the doors and
hurried down to the kitchen where it was warm.

 

—Edna O’Brien, The Lonely Girl

ONE

The Girl in the Green Coat

I MET CHARLOTTE IN LONDON one afternoon while waiting for a bus. Just look at that sentence! That in itself is the first extraordinary thing, as I took the bus as rarely as once or twice a year, and even then it was only for the novelty value of not traveling in a car or train. It was mid-November 1954, and as cold as I had ever known London. “Too cold to snow,” my brother used to say on such days, something that I had never understood. I was wearing my beautiful old fur-lined coat from Whiteleys and a pair of Fair Isle gloves that one of Inigo’s friends had left at Magna the weekend before, so was feeling quite well-disposed toward the arctic conditions. There I was, thinking about Johnnie Ray and waiting patiently with two old ladies, one boy of about fourteen, and a young mother and her baby, when my thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of a stick-thin girl wearing a long, sea green coat. She was almost as tall as I, which caught my attention straightaway, as I am just about six foot with my shoes on. She stood in front of all of us, and cleared her throat.

“Anyone want to share a taxi?” she demanded. “I can’t sit around here all day waiting.” She spoke loudly and quickly and without a hint of self-consciousness, and it was instantly clear to me that although the girl was addressing us all, it was me she wanted to accept her offer. The fourteen-year-old boy opened his mouth and closed it again, then blushed and dug his hands into his pockets. One of the elderly ladies muttered, “No thank you,” and the other I think must have been deaf, because her expression remained unaltered by the proposal. The young mother shook her head with a smile of infinite regret that stayed in my mind’s eye long after the day had ended. I shrugged.

“Where are you going?” I asked pointlessly.

“Oh, you darling! Come on.” The girl darted into the middle of the road and stuck out a hand to hail a cab. Within seconds, one had pulled up beside her.

“Come on!” she cried.

“Hang on a second! Where are you going?” I demanded for the second time, thoroughly flustered and wishing that I had never opened my mouth in the first place.

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, just jump in!” she ordered, opening the door of the taxi. For a few seconds in time the whole world seemed to hesitate under starter’s orders. Somewhere in a parallel universe, I heard myself shout out that I had changed my mind and that she must go on alone. Of course, in reality, I leaped forward and into the cab beside her just as the lights changed, and we were off.

“Yikes!” she exclaimed. “I thought you’d never move!”

She didn’t turn to speak to me, but sat straight ahead, staring out in the direction that we were going. I didn’t reply at once, but took in the glory of her profile—the smooth, milky pale skin, the long curling eyelashes, and the thick, thick, straight, heavy, dark-blonde hair that fell well below her shoulders. She looked a little older than I, but I sensed from the way that she talked that she was probably about a year younger. She sat very still, her big mouth set in a small smile.

“Where are you going?” I asked again.

“Is that all you can say?”

“I’ll stop asking it when you give me an answer.”

“I’m going to Kensington. I’m having tea with Aunt Clare and Harry, which is just too impossible for words, so I should like you to come with me, we’ll have a lovely afternoon. Oh, and my name’s Charlotte, by the way.”

That was how she said it. Straight Alice in Wonderland. Of course, me being me, I was flattered by her absurd presumption, firstly that I would be happy to accompany her, and secondly that it would be a lovely afternoon if I did.

“I have to read through Act Four of Antony and Cleopatra by five o’clock,” I said, hoping to appear slightly aloof.

“Oh, it’s an absolute cinch,” she said briskly. “He dies, she kills herself with an asp. Bring me my robe and my crown, I have immortal longings in me,” she quoted softly. “You have to admire a woman who chooses to end her life with a snakebite, don’t you? Attention seeking, Aunt Clare would call it. I think it’s the most glamorous way to go.”

“Hard to do in England,” I said reasonably. “Not many serpents hanging about in West London.”

“There are plenty in West London,” said Charlotte briskly. “I had dinner with one last night.”

I laughed. “Who was that?”

“My mother’s latest conquest. He insisted on feeding her forkfuls of shepherd’s pie as if she were three years old. She wouldn’t stop giggling as though it were quite the most hilarious thing that had ever happened. I must remember not to dine with her again this year,” she mused, taking out a notebook and pencil. “What’s more, her new beau was nothing at all like he is in the orchestra pit.”

“Orchestra pit?”

“He’s a conductor called Michael Hollowman. I suppose you’re going to go all sophisticated and tell me you know exactly who he is and wasn’t his interpretation of Rigoletto remarkable?”

“It was, if a little hurried and lacking in emotion,” I said.

Charlotte stared at me and I grinned.

“I’m joking,” I admitted.

“Thank goodness for that. I think I would have had to withdraw my invitation right away if you hadn’t been,” said Charlotte.

 

It had started to rain and the traffic was worsening.

“Who are Aunt Clare and Harry?” I asked, curiosity winning hands down over practicalities like the fact that we were traveling in quite the opposite direction from Paddington. Charlotte sighed.

“Aunt Clare is really my mother. I mean, she’s not my mother, she’s my mother’s sister, but my mother has given up on everything in life except for men with batons who she believes will help further her career. She’s got it into her head that she’s a great, untrained singer,” she said grimly.

“And is she?”

“She’s certainly got the untrained bit right. She’s very neurotic about everything except for what happens to me, which is rather convenient as we have nothing at all in common—except for our delusions of grandeur—so I spend most of my time at Aunt Clare’s and as little time as possible at home.”

“And where is home?” I asked, sounding just like my grandmother.

“Clapham,” said Charlotte.

“Oh.”

She may as well have said Venus. I had heard of it, but had no idea where Clapham was.

“Anyway, Aunt Clare is writing her memoirs at the moment,” Charlotte went on. “I’m helping her. By that I mean that I’m just listening to her talk and typing what she says. She’s paying me a pittance because she thinks I should be honored to have the job. She says plenty of people would give their eyeteeth to hear stories like hers from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.”

“I don’t doubt it,” I said. “And Harry?”

Charlotte turned to face me.

“Aunt Clare was married to a very smart man called Samuel Delancey until three years ago. One of those fearfully good-looking but very mean types. Anyway, he was killed by a falling bookcase.”

“No!”

“Yes, really, it just collapsed on his head as he sat reading On the Origin of Species—very ironic, my mother kept saying—and as a result Aunt Clare inherited an awful lot of debt and not much else. He was a pretty scary sort of man, with a clubfoot to boot—ha ha, if you’ll pardon the pun. Harry is their only son—he’s twenty-five and convinced that the whole world is conspiring against him. It’s very dull indeed.”

“I’m happy to share the taxi with you, but I don’t make a habit of having tea with complete strangers,” I said unconvincingly.

“Oh, good gracious, I’m not asking you to make a habit of it. But do come. Ple...

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