Something to Hide, by Deborah Moggach - book review: A genuine page-turner

The things we’ll do for secrets

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The Independent Culture

Everybody has something to hide, but while some secrets are mildly embarrassing, others are shocking and possibly perilous. Deborah Moggach uses this facet of the human condition as the premise for her novel about four women striving to keep secrets safely hidden.

Petra is a single sixtysomething living in Pimlico, London. Her children and grandchildren live in far flung corners of the world and she has taken up online dating to assuage her loneliness. Things look up when her old friend Jeremy reappears in her life and they begin a passionate affair, meeting every time he is in London on business. It is everything Petra has dreamed of with only one small wrinkle to spoil her happiness. Jeremy is her best friend Bev’s husband. Things get even more difficult when Bev calls from her African home and begs Petra to come and help her. So begins a complex dance as Petra attempts to be the best friend Bev so obviously needs while constantly fearing that her affair with Jeremy will be exposed. Thrown together, old jealousies and spats arise and Petra discovers that Bev has her own secrets to hide. Petra’s African experiences are vivid and eye-opening. Away from the slick cities full of Arab and Chinese businessmen, Petra finds that Africa is still poor and corruption is rife at every level of society. Moggach sends Petra on the voyage of a lifetime, where she makes astonishing discoveries about Bev, Jeremy, and herself.

Over in Texas, Lorrie dreams of moving her family to a better neighbourhood but with her husband in the military and two growing children, money is tight. When she accidentally destroys their chance to escape their run down home she embarks on an extraordinary project to put things right. At the same time, in China, Li Jing wonders why her stern businessman husband spends so much time in Africa and how she will get over the shame of her infertility. Things go from bad to worse when tests reveal that her husband is equally to blame for their lack of a child and Li Jing wonders if he will recover from the loss of face. He is impassive and tells her he has plans to sort everything out.

Skilfully, Moggach draws these disparate strands together, showing that even the most unlikely people can be connected in unexpected ways. In spite of their differences in age, lifestyle and geography, these women share a common characteristic; they are willing to betray their nearest and dearest in order to keep their secrets from being discovered. The women are all fully rounded characters who are easy to care for, particularly Petra whose warmth and humour, with some dark flourishes, is appealing. This is an absorbing read, with surprises and moments of tension that make it a genuine page-turner.

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