Book Review: Eleanor’s Secret

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Author: Caroline Beecham
ISBN: 978-1-76029-566-0
RRP: $29.99
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher

I read Maggie’s Kitchen when it released and quite enjoyed it so when I discovered the impending release of Eleanor’s Secret I thought it would be a great fit for the book club.

Eleanor’s Secret is a stand alone novel set across generations, told during WWII and in 2010. Maggie’s Kitchen was also a WWII story that centred on the British Restaurants that were opened during the war to feed the community. Eleanor’s Secret touches on the restaurants in that part of Eleanor’s job description is helping to organise the art that will hang in the restaurants. I kept my eyes open for a mention of Maggie and her restaurant. The two stories aren’t connected but this added an extra layer of interest for me.

I learned a lot of interesting facts that I never would have learned about the second world war from this novel. The story is fictional but Beecham has done her research to make sure it has an authentic atmosphere and you are left believing that it could have happened.

Women stepped up and started doing a lot more in times of war because they had to, there were many jobs that would have been left vacant when the men went off to war if they hadn’t. That still didn’t give them equality and there were still roles women had to fight to even be considered for.

It was one of these roles that Eleanor coveted, she wanted to be a war artist. Eleanor was a talented artist, recent art graduate and she worked in the art industry but couldn’t get herself included in the programs. She worked for the Ministry of Food helping to organise the art in the British Restaurants and later also held a position with the Ministry of Information where she worked with war artists but still couldn’t take that leap into becoming a war artist, she was told she was needed in the positions she held and they were still contributing to the war effort.

In the course of her duties she met fellow artist Jack Valante, and was soon separated from him by his overseas posting.

Kathryn is Eleanor’s grand-daughter, living in Melbourne with her husband and son, and when she is asked to return a painting to Eleanor in England she can’t help but comply. Her marriage is in trouble but it isn’t often her aging grandmother asks for anything so she doesn’t feel that she can refuse the request.

Eleanor has always been quite a private person which causes all of the family to be concerned about the sudden need for this painting and subsequent search for it’s artist. There is a mystery here that is slow to unfold and fascinating to follow. I had questions, I had theories, and I was left content with the way it all came together. I think there are still some questions that remain unanswered but for the most part it all came together beautifully.

The use of dual timelines to slowly share clues to the mystery was well executed and the two timelines rolled on to their point of total disclosure at a steady pace that kept me interested start to finish. Bringing Kathryn’s son into the unfolding mystery via skype was a heart-warming touch.

1942 Eleanor is a strong-willed and dedicated young woman, determined to do the best she can in her positions with both the Ministry of Food and the Ministry of Information, even when it means she struggles to find the time to paint. We learn a little about the struggles faced by war artists with rationing in full force and supplies hard to come by, yet still requiring supplies to paint but not sure what happens when the paint runs out. We get to know Eleanor, her compassion and her dedication well throughout the war time storyline and there’re seems to be some glaringly large differences between 1942 Eleanor and 2010 Eleanor which you just have to keep reading to try and discover the answers to.

Beecham shines a spotlight on a lesser known aspect of London through WWII and I found it fascinating to learn about war artists and the War Artist Advisory Committee, that seems to have been created simply to help keep a generation of artists out of the front line even if they still headed to warzones.

I found Eleanor’s Secret to be an interesting story, and not that long ago I would have said that wartime stories weren’t really my thing. The pacing was steady but a little on the slow side but I never found it to get tedious. It was quite an easy read and one that I would definitely recommend, a side of wartime London that I had certainly been unaware of, and it was interesting reading.

Caroline Beecham is becoming an author to look out for and I will be interested to see what she has up her sleeve next.

Eleanor’s Secret is book #23 for the Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2018.

Caroline Beecham can be followed on and Twitter.

Eleanor’s Secret is published by Allen & Unwin and is available now through Angus & Robertson Bookworld, Booktopia and where all good books are sold.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin 50 of our Beauty and Lace Club Members will be reading Eleanor’s Secret and you can read their thoughts on the book at BOOK CLUB: Eleanor’s Secret

3 thoughts on “Book Review: Eleanor’s Secret

  1. The book travels between England in the 1940s and present day 2010. During the war, Eleanor worked for the Ministry of Food and Ministry of Information. Eleanor has an understated talent as an artist and longed to be war artist herself, which was rare for the time. One day her boss asked her to track down an artist named Jack to sign a contract. She was intrigued by this handsome artist who had an air of mystery about him; their connection was instant but not stable.

    Moving to the present day Eleanor calls her granddaughter Kathryn in Australia. With a hint of urgency she must fly back to England with a particular painting leaving her Hubby and 10 year old Son. So what’s the mystery surrounding the painting after 70 years? What will Kathryn uncover about her family and the painting?

    I enjoyed this book; while the story steadily unfolded I was intrigued to hear about this perspective of war and the war artists’ role, something that I never really considered before.
    With a lovely illustrated cover, if you like a bit of a mystery tied into a love story you will relish in this book.

    This is the third book I received from Beauty& Lace Book Club in the same week. I am so grateful to be picked to read so many wonderful books. Thank you to the B&L book club and publishers Allen & Unwin.

  2. A pleasant surprise that this book was not totally focused on the war but a small slice of what London in 1942 was doing to bring the “pictures” of war to the public and the woman, Eleanor Roy whose job it was to sign up artists to record the front line face of war. It touched on a few lives of other characters but the focus of the story was to uncover Eleanor’s secret and what and who “that” painting really represented. This secret spanned from 1942 to 2010 which with the help of her granddaughter Kathryn, who is herself having struggles with her life and marriage, but none the less sets upon the trip to London as her grandmothers request to return a painting and Kathryn also hopes to uncover her grandmothers secret of the painting by Jack Valante. A great insight into the roles women played in war times.. albeit fictional many women did fill traditional roles of the men who were off fighting, so it was feasible that this was a role Eleanor played recruiting artists. The story is well paced and is easy to follow with the transgression from 1942 to present day 2010 with each page uncovering a little more of the secret and love once there.. now gone but also uncovering a secret from long ago…. Is it worth risking the family’s future or is the future worth protecting more than the past……. The story moves at a pace that allows the reader to really experience the “old” London and also appreciate the fact that while Eleanor is now an elderly women she was once a young women in love. I would recommend this book as I thoroughly enjoyed reading it. Thank you to Beauty and Lace and to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy to review.

  3. I really enjoyed this book, It gave a small insight as to how the role of an artist was during the war. It was something I had never thought about until reading this book. How the committee was set up to help the artists & at the same time document what was happening using art.

    It followed a beautifully written love story between Eleanore & Jack. How they became estranged & met up again many years later. I was kept interested & intrigued to know more about what happened in their lives.

    I would recommend this book 🙂

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