The story itself centres around two families, the Trees and the Winterbornes, each dealing with tragedies both old and new. Roger Tree is a Catholic priest facing an accusation of child abuse ten years previously. He confesses at once to the crimes but there is a much darker secret that he cannot bring himself to admit to anyone. His brother, a famous writer, lies in a coma and he find himself supporting his sister, Romola, who is struggling to come to terms with life without he beloved Hereword, and his brother’s much younger fiancé, Carina.
Life for the Winterbornes is also facing great upheavals as mother and daughter, Betty and Julia, find themselves reassessing their own relationship in the face of the challenges they both must face.
The story of the two families are linked by the tragic death of Julia’s brother Mark on a school trip twenty years earlier. It is Betty Winterborne’s decision to re-examine her son’s last days that bring her some hope of closure.
For me, Hidden Knowledge proved to be something of a hidden gem. It is not the kind of subject that would normally attract my interest, but I am glad I did.
It seems that Bernardine wrote just three novels in her retirement after a varied and full life. I am certainly going to look out for the other two on my travels.
Child abuse is not an easy subject to write about, but Bernardine does it with great compassion and empathy. As the story unfolds it is easy often to forget that Roger is the abuser. There is no getting away from the serious nature of his crimes, but for the duration of the story Roger is the rock that supports his family.
We all have secrets, some we keep from those closes to us, some we try to hide from ourselves. Each of the characters in Hidden Knowledge find themselves confronting their own demons. Some are more profound than others, but are equally demanding emotionally.
In the end, Hidden Knowledge is a book about ordinary people having to face extraordinary truths. It is a powerful story told with skill and experience. It is a much easier and more satisfactory read than I had imagined it would be. It challenges the reader, but doesn’t overwhelm.