Emma's Secret by Barbara Taylor Bradford

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Emma's Secret by Barbara Taylor Bradford

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Category: Women's Fiction
Rating: 1/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: The fourth in the Woman of Substance series is not only not worth buying, it's not even worth the trouble of carrying it home from the library. The plot's poor and the characterisation's worse. Just about everybody's name begins with an E. Dreadful tosh.
Buy? No Borrow? No
Pages: 528 Date: December 2003
Publisher: HarperCollins
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 0006514413

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Emsie and Emily are talking about Evan who is female rather than male as you might think. They're wondering if Evan is a descendant of Emma, although it is obviously not through Edwina who is Edwin's illegitimate daughter. There is that strange resemblance to Elizabeth though and, to confuse matters even further, a nanny called Elvira.

I'd had a busy day and the library trip had to be restricted to dropping six books on the counter and picking up the first six from the returned books trolley. One of these was "Emma's Secret" by Barbara Taylor Bradford. It's number four in her Emma Harte series, of which A Woman of Substance is the first, best and most famous.

On her death bed Evan's grandmother tells her to find Emma Harte as she has the key to her future. Evan goes to London only to discover that Emma has been dead for thirty years, but as she's come all the way from New York she decides she might as well take a job at the Harte department store. Everyone she meets comments on her physical likeness to the Harte family. During the Second World War Evan's grandmother had been Emma's secretary and it's hoped that Emma's diaries from that period will provide some clue as to if and how Evan is related to the Hartes.

There are far, far too many people in this story. It covers four generations of three families, most of whom seem to have bred prolifically and had no compunction about giving their offspring similar names. It's a big book - 528 pages - but none of the characters are well-developed and even towards the end I was still flicking back to the family tree to try and work out who was who. A good number of people are necessary if the mystery of the relationship is to be sustained, but the characters are so two-dimensional that when the 'culprit' was eventually revealed I had to look back at the family tree yet again.

The Hartes, the O'Neills and the Kallinskis are all rich and it's all apparently been achieved through hard work on their part. The book is full of the trappings of wealth - multiple homes, couturier clothes and the sort of jewellery that's more of a responsibility than a pleasure - but there is no balancing feeling of the obligations of wealth. Running a chain of department stores, various newspapers and many other business interests must be unrelentingly hard work, but I had no sense of any effort being needed. On the contrary, I was left with the feeling that these were people of leisure. I was reading pure soap opera. It's Dallas meets Dynasty.

In fairness I might have found the book more rewarding if I'd read all three earlier books in the series. I read "A Woman of Substance" not long after its publication in 1979 and I've a suspicion that I might have read one of the other books in the series, but it didn't leave much of an impression if I did. Reading "Emma's Secret" without a good grounding in the history of the three families involved is rather like listening to "The Archers" on Radio 4 and expecting to understand the complex family relationships in the first episode. You'll find too that there are a lot of loose ends when the story finishes - but you'll have to buy the next novel in the series to see how they work out. This is not a stand-alone novel in any sense.

Barbara Taylor Bradford was born in Leeds. Her website is a little coy about exactly when, but I suspect that she's a good deal older than the pictures in her books would have us believe. She moved to New York when she married in 1963 and she seems to have forgotten all she ever knew about the place of her birth. British women do not collect a string of surnames when they remarry - they discard the old and adopt the new. British men do not have names like Winston Harte II. The book has been unrepentantly written for the American market and if you're from Yorkshire it grates. I nearly ripped the page out when I saw my place of birth described as a city rather than a town.

A big book should have given the opportunity for real character development, but much of it seemed to be little more than padding. Some groundwork needed to be done to set the scene, particularly in the war years, but I have to question whether quoting quite lengthy passages from Churchill's speeches really achieved this in the best way. They are easy page-fillers though and I found myself skimming through page after page on occasions. On a smaller scale, having one character describe the outfit of another to someone standing next to her smacks of lazy writing. I love food, but even I tired of the endless descriptions. A good editor would have cut this book down to half its size - or preferably ripped it up altogether.

In the acknowledgements Mrs Bradford says that she brought Emma Harte back "by popular demand". She doesn't say who made the demand, but I suspect it could well have been her accountant or her bank manager. There's very little in the way of plot and a great deal of rehashing of old story lines. She's only written one good book and that was "A Woman of Substance" and "Emma's Secret" is nothing more than a blatant attempt to cash in on its success yet again.

I'm not going to recommend the book. If you're seriously interested in the Emma Harte saga then you might like to read it for completeness. There are a couple of scenes which are sexually explicit, but there's nothing there to offend. There's nothing in the book to excite either.

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Buy Emma's Secret by Barbara Taylor Bradford at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Emma's Secret by Barbara Taylor Bradford at Amazon.co.uk Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy Emma's Secret by Barbara Taylor Bradford at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Emma's Secret by Barbara Taylor Bradford at Amazon.com.


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Rachel said:

I thoroughly agree with you that there are too many characters in the book to make it an enjoyable read.