Aussie Book Review: Can You Keep a Secret by Caroline Overington

“People can pretend to be anything” – Caitlin

From the Cover

"How well do you really know the one you love? With her customary page-turning style and potent themes, this is Caroline Overington at her thought-provoking best. 'Why do some people decide to get married when everyone around them would seem to agree that marriage, at least for the two people in question, is a terrifically bad idea?'The year is 1999, and Lachlan Colbert - Colby - has the world at his feet. He's got a big job on Wall Street and a sleek bachelor pad in the heart of Manhattan. With money no object, he and his friends take a trip to Australia to see in the new millennium. And it's there, on a hired yacht sailing the Whitsundays, that he meets Caitlin. Caitlin Hourigan has got wild hair and torn shorts - and has barely ever left the small patch of Queensland where she grew up. But Colby is smitten and for Caitlin, a girl from the wrong side of the tracks, a blissful future awaits - marriage, a big house, a beautiful little boy.But nothing is ever as perfect as it seems. And for Lachlan and Caitlin the nightmare is only just beginning."

The story opens with Caitlin Colbert outside her burning home, calling for her son Benjamin, who is trapped inside.

Skip back a few years to December 1999, just before the dreaded Y2K bug is set to hit, and we are introduced to both Caitlin and Lachlan (Colby to his friends).  An American on holiday in Australia with two of his mates, Colby’s path collides with Caitlin’s when she is asked to work on the yacht that he and his friends have chartered to cruise around the Whitsunday Islands.  It is not love at first sight, but by the end of their trip, Colby has taken a bit of a shine to Caitlin, and she to him, so he decides to delay his New Year trip with his friends to the Sydney New Year’s fireworks, in favour of spending some time with Caitlin.

From there, and for the next two years, they embark on a long-distance relationship of sorts and, in 2002, he buys Caitlin, who is really, rather uneducated and has never ventured very far from the Whitsundays, a ticket to fly to New York for six weeks.

Things seem to be going extremely well between them until, in the aftermath of a tragedy that left the whole world shocked and so many families shattered, Caitlin begins to experience a fear of flying.  With her visa soon to expire, but unable to overcome her phobia, her six week holiday turns into far longer than either her or Colby had anticipated as she begins to see a psychiatrist in the hope of a breakthrough.  A hasty decision on Thanksgiving sees Colby proposing to her and a few days later, Caitlin becomes his wife.

Having become a bit of a recluse, withdrawing into herself and continually cleaning and renovating their beautiful home, while Colby works long hours at his demanding job, she begins to think about children, but when the barren weeks fade into months, she seeks the advice of a doctor.

With one miscarriage behind her, and apparently no hope of her ever conceiving, she turns to researching adoption and, with the help of a social worker, discovers that her and Colby could finally have a chance at parenthood when they are told about an orphanage in Russia. But all is not as it should be and, instead of strengthening their marital bonds, her and Colby continue to drift apart as she takes up the practice of placing her thoughts, emotions and fears of their incredible journey into a blog.

The comments that are left in response to those posts offer conflicting viewpoints on her dilemma, but at the end, the questions that the police and fire brigade put to Colby, and everyone else who has been associated with them, bring to light the very sad fact that you can’t always rely on one person’s viewpoint!

Do you know your loved one as much as you think you do?

Caroline Overington is known to make her readers think, offering us thought-provoking themes and, although I’ve never read her before, from what I’ve seen around the blogosphere, this time it appears no different.  In Can you Keep a Secret, she delves into the complicated world of adoption as well as severe mental illness, whilst also touching on the challenges of parenting an adopted child from a country that you know nothing about and the pressure this can possibly place on the sometimes fragile bonds of marriage.

Whilst I didn’t really like any of her characters, in my opinion, I think this is the reaction she was aiming for and, even though they don’t have the amount of depth that I usually love in my novels, such as a sufficient amount of backstory, she did manage to convey Caitlin as immature and clingy – so much so that there were times I wanted to shake her and tell her to grow up.  Colby, while he is ten years older, bore (and perhaps I’m being a bit stereotypical here) the ambivalence of a male faced with a situation he has no control over, with his answer being to just give her everything she wants.  He has the money, so why not!

Even though I think that some will find the subject matter a bit of a challenge, this aside, Caroline’s writing has a surprisingly relaxed and easy feel to it which immerses you into Caitlin’s world and keeps you turning the pages.  She’s also been rather shrewd in choosing Caitlin to be the narrator as we get nobody else’s viewpoint until the very end. For me, the title itself asks the reader “can you keep a secret”?  As a reviewer, yes, I sure can!

I wish to thank Random House Australia for providing me with an ARC eGalley of this novel.

A Little About the Author

Caroline Overington is an award-winning Australian author and journalist. 

She has published nine books, including six novels, and three works of non-fiction.

Caroline has twice won Australia’s most prestigious award for journalism, the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism. She has also won the Sir Keith Murdoch award for Journalistic Excellence; and the richest prize for business writing, the Blake Dawson Prize.

She has been a foreign correspondent, based in New York, worked for The Age, The Sydney Morning Herald, and The Australian, and is currently the associate editor of the iconic The Australian Women’s Weekly.

Her second novel, I Came To Say Goodbye, was short-listed for both Book of the Year, and Fiction Book of the Year, at the 2012 Australian Book Industry Awards. 

Caroline lives in Bondi with her 14-year-old twins, a blue dog, and a blue-tongue lizard.


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