1 February 2011

Philippe Grimbert, Secret, 2004

An unhealthy and introverted boy in post-war Paris imagines he has a rival elder brother, as strong and statuesque as his health-obsessed parents, but he soon learns about a real brother, no longer alive, that his parents have kept secret from him. This feels like a very private memoir, firstly because it’s filled with such personal and lifelong tragedy for all the characters, and secondly because the protagonist shares not only the surname of the author but also, as an adult, the same profession in psychoanalysis. These are just a couple of the crossover points that give away Secret as an ‘autofiction’, that identifiably French genre, and Grimbert also seems to be asking the reader if the relationship between fact and fiction is more like that of rivals, or long-lost brothers? He seems to be trying to reunite the two, and is deft at manipulating the reader to see the novel this way at the same time as telling a wrenching story, with its autobiographical tone making it insightful, compassionate and also very saddening. Secret was also made into a film in 2007.  PY


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