A.k.a. "the Dr Zhivago novel"; the buzz about this début started months ago, when it sparked a bidding war between 12 UK publishers, and 14 in the US. Rights have sold in 29 territories. It is based on the true story of how Boris Pasternak’s novel Dr Zhivago, deemed to be subversive, was smuggled out of Soviet Russia to be
published in the West, and how two female CIA agents, drawn from the typing pool, played their part. Author Prescott was named after the heroine of Dr Zhivago, and discovered the true story behind the novel after the CIA declassified various documents.
Prescott may not be an accomplished prose stylist, but her characterisation is often deft. Her Pasternak is vividly flawed: histrionic, lachrymose but stubbornly lovable. Her research is thorough if occasionally a little too visible, and the portrayal of the love between Olga and Pasternak is poignant and convincing. Sold in 25 countries, with film rights optioned, The Secrets We Kept is set to be a publishing phenomenon; but more importantly, it is a thoroughly enjoyable read.
It is bold to write a novel about the power of literature because, inevitably, this puts the reader on high alert as to the quality of your prose. Prescott’s writing is bewilderingly flat and her observations clichéd... Potentially dramatic storylines are wasted opportunities: two women in the CIA embark on a passionate affair with dreadful consequences, but their relationship never quite rings true. The most interesting plotline concerns an experienced femme fatale-type spy who is sexually assaulted by a colleague, then ousted from the service, but this is under-explored too. Prescott says that her novel contains direct descriptions and quotes from first-hand accounts of the events she has fictionalised, which include 99 memos and reports relating to the Zhivago mission that the CIA released in 2014. This may explain some of her heavy-footed prose, but sadly can’t excuse it.
Lara Prescott uses multiple narrators and viewpoints in her impressive debut The Secrets We Kept, but hers is a 20th-century tale of Cold War confrontation...
By concentrating on the women in the story (Pasternak’s mistress, Olga, who suffers in the gulag for her love, and the two American agents who embark on a doomed affair), Prescott has written an unusual, stimulating variant on the standard spy thriller.
If you’ve never read Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago you’ll want to after reading this stylish debut novel. It’s a fascinating fictionalisation of how the celebrated Russian author’s book came to be published, despite being banned by the Soviets. As two women from the CIA’s typing pool try to smuggle the masterpiece back into Russia, we realise the true power of a book to change history. Prescott delivers a multi-layered tales of the drama behind the story.