What We Hide
Through the course of What We Hide, Marthe Jocelyn touches on a lot of important themes. While I can’t say she deals with any of them in a deep way, I think the novel promotes thought and understanding in a really healthy way. My favorite discussions were those of The Vietnam War and of homosexuality. What We Hide is set in the early 1970s, and the draft is what creates the frame story for the novel. Jenny’s brother Tom has to go to college to escape the draft, and his parents want to be sure that he won’t get pulled anyway by sending him abroad. Jenny, though not at risk, gets to go to a nearby British boarding school for a semester. Though the Vietnam War is very distant from the plot itself, it does come up in small ways throughout, and I really enjoyed that aspect.
Marthe Jocelyn tells this story from a bunch of different perspectives and even uses some different formats. Most of the narration is straight forward first or third person, but Oona writes letters and Percy writes film scripts. Mixing styles like this is very tricky to pull off, but all of the narrative really worked for me, and there weren’t a lot of quick switches which helped keep things clear. I’m very impressed whenever authors do multiple POVs well and Jocelyn succeeded I am proud to say. Aside from the perspectives being distinct and fitting the characters, they were all interesting. When the POV switched, I was always okay with it, and glad to get new information.
There’s not a whole lot of plot to What We Hide; it’s very much a portrait of this place and time. The multiple points of view enable the reader to see the small group of characters from all angles and really delve into their characters. You get to see what Oona, for example, says about herself and then see how others react to her. It builds a fuller picture than just one perspective and leaves the reader to make a few judgment calls on precisely what went down in some cases.
As the title suggests, the real point is that everyone is hiding something. They all have secrets that they’re keeping, and the ending shows a couple of them getting past that and owning up to their lies or pretenses. Jenny’s pretending to have a boyfriend off at war. Nico’s pretending he doesn’t have a famous mother who wrote about his childhood. Percy’s hiding his famous dad who never visits. Robbie and Luke are hiding the fact that they’re gay. Brenda’s keeping the school doctor’s inappropriate touching quiet. Oona’s trying to keep her betrayal from her best friend. My favorite plot line was definitely that of Robbie and Luke, which is pretty heartbreaking, because they’re so cute and people are such assholes.
The Final Verdict:
What We Hide could benefit I think from a bit more direction, but I did still find it a satisfying read, and I greatly enjoyed its uniqueness. It’s not the typical high scandal boarding school book. It’s slow and thoughtful and beautiful for those who appreciate these sorts of more experimental stories.