Review: Lilia's Secret by Erina Reddan

lilias_secret.jpg    Erina Reddan
Vintage, 334 pp.
Source: review copy
Review by Tineke Hazel

Lilia's Secret is a story about how separation and loss in childhood can affect life later in adulthood.

Maddy, the youngest of seven children, talks about her life on a dairy-farm in a dry sunburnt place somewhere in Australia. Her mother is overwhelmed with work on the farm and looking after seven children. Maddy's father loves her mother dearly and does his best to make life reasonable on this dry and lonely farm, but her mother is so unhappy she leaves the farm and children to go and live with a former boyfriend. Maddy's father is so devastated by his wife leaving him; he can't cope with the unhappiness and hangs himself from a tree in a gully, where he is found by his eldest son. After the funeral Maddy's mother comes back to look after her family. Maddy grows up and marries Andres, a young man from Mexico. She freaks out when he suggests they start a family, as families to her mean total unhappiness. She decides she needs time out to think this over and tells Andres she has to go to Mexico on a business trip, where the major part of the novel takes place.

In the second major strand of the novel, Bill, is a recently retired Boston business tycoon. He was an only child, loved by his parents and appears to be leading a happy family life, until, when he is about ten, his father receives a letter from Lilia, the Mexican widow of his best friend living in Aquasecas. She asks him to come to Mexico to sort out some business matters his late friend left unfinished. He drops everything, including his wife and little son Billy, and goes to Mexico, where he succumbs to the charms of the beautiful and wealthy Lilia de Las Flores. He marries her and a few years later dies under suspicious circumstances. It later emerges that most of Lilias previous five husbands had also died suspiciously.

Bill, now retired and neurotically counting whatever is in sight, finds a letter from his dead father in a box belonging to his dead mother. He decides to go to Aqusecas to see if he can find out what really happened to his father.

Maddy arrives in Mexico and meets Andres's sisters who show her a photo of Lilia de Las Flores who is, she discovers, Andres's great grandmother. She too, goes to Aquasecas to find out if Lilia really did kill her husbands.

Following similar paths, Bill and Maddy get to know each other as each pursue leads to Lilia de Las Flores in their own way.

At this point, the story becomes very involved and convoluted. Keeping the characters apart and meaningful becomes rather difficult. Each new introduced character adds a little more knowledge about Lilia, and slowly the mystery of the deaths of her husbands comes to light.

The use of language gives the characters a gesticulating and restless quality. Maddy's neurotic scratching of her wrist may be a symptom of our modern dysfunctional child but really contributes nothing to the story itself. The same goes for Bill, who counts everything in sight to keep himself grounded, but he never matures despite the fact he gives some of his millions to start a midwifery clinic in Aquasecas.

There is no comfortable rhythm to the story to encourage you on as a reader. There is also no sense of place: there are very few memorable descriptions of Mexico or the countryside they move in.

To sum up, the point of the novel is to tell a story of love and tragedy of a mysterious Mexican woman whose actions influence later generations. The two main characters, Maddie who is a young woman traumatised in her childhood by the mother leaving the family and suicide by hanging of her father, and Bill, the retired business tycoon, traumatised as a boy by his father leaving for Mexico and never coming back, both struggle with the inability to love and be loved. Both learn a little of how to give of themselves but they still have a long way to go.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 21, 2007 2:51 PM.

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