Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
Named among the top ten Australian fiction bestseller writers for September 2018 for her novel Brothers and Sisters, Fiona Palmer is also the author of the novel Secrets Between Friends which was published in 2017. Like many of her previous novels this book is also set in Western Australia, her home state, but this time her prime setting is on a cruise boat travelling from Fremantle to Albany and back.
All of Fiona Palmer’s books are interesting to read as they contain engaging storylines with believable characters. When once asked if her characters came from her own experiences of people she knew, she replied that there was a bit of herself in all her books and she had drawn on her experiences as well as stories about other people’s lives. Her life has certainly given her much to draw on. There are not many bestselling authors who write books for women and young adults while also working on a farm or race speedway. Fiona was a speedway driver for seven years although she now works as a farmhand while caring for her two children in a tiny rural community 350km from Perth.
Secrets Between Friends is about friendships forged while growing up and lasting into adulthood. This storyline is about three women friends who have shared their lives with each other for many years yet who all harbour secrets which they don’t wish to disclose for fear of jeopardising their relationships.
Jess is a school teacher and single mum to Ollie. She has never told anyone who Ollie’s father is, brushing his paternity away as a one night stand. She grew up with an abusive father and, when young, often found sanctuary with the family down the street who had a young boy about her own age. These two children forged a friendship which lasted into adulthood as well. Having grown into a handsome, caring, and supportive person, Peter soon became a fixed addition to the trio of girls, always being there for Jess but also showing concern for and supporting the other two. Jess’s brother is causing her great anxiety as he has become a drug addict and she wants him nowhere near her son.
Abbie is an outspoken real estate agent and was in a long term relationship until everything fell apart. Her forthrightness resulted in losing her job just at the time when her relationship ended. She is also hiding a serious health issue from her friends and goes out of her way to pretend that she is enjoying a wonderful life. Abbie has always been the life of the party.
Ricki is a dedicated nurse and is now in an intimate relationship with Peter, however, she feels that their relationship may have lost some of its zing as she is becoming drawn to Miguel, the male nurse with whom she works. She also feels that dreams she has always harboured concerning her work and travel are never likely to be realised unless she makes changes to her present lifestyle. She has no idea that Peter has asked her two friends to help him buy an engagement ring so he can propose to her on the upcoming cruise.
As all four set sail to rekindle the excitement of a school excursion the girls had taken ten years earlier to the historic port town of Albany, their secrets seep out threatening to do untold damage to the dynamics of the group.
The issues, experiences and emotions written about in this novel as those we all experience in our life. At one stage I found myself brushing away tears when they fell silently as I read on about the unfolding lives of these friends.
All of the key characters have to weather emotions of fear, unrequited love, confusion, loss and embarrassment before the strong bond that they share helps them understand what is really important in their lives.
The vivid descriptions of the landscape, especially around Albany clearly show the author’s love of Western Australia. I found this a very enjoyable story, though sad in parts, and I was left wondering what I would do if faced with some of the issues raised in this novel. I would recommend this book to all readers who are fascinated with the dynamics of human relationships.
Secrets Between Friends
By Fiona Palmer