Coco’s Secret by Niamh Greene
By Niamh Greene
Published by Penguin Group (2013)
Heart-warming yet poignant, Coco’s Secret – written by Irish author Niamh Greene – exudes the aura of a Cecelia Ahern novel. The storyline was simple and told in a laidback manner. Although there was no particular antagonist putting pressure on the main character or adding suspenseful elements to the story, Coco’s Secret was still quite a satisfying read: most characters had a rich background story that could make readers wonder whether these characters had been based on real people.
Coco Swan, the 32-year-old main protagonist of this novel, managed a family antiques store in a small Irish town with her grandmother Ruth. Coco’s grandfather and mother had passed away, while her father’s identity remained unknown. Coco was very fond of antiques; she saw all items as having a secret life story of their own, and that fascinated her.
One day, Coco brought home a box of antique knick-knacks from an auction. The box contained mostly worthless and broken items, until she got to the bottom of it: beneath everything was an authentic vintage Chanel bag from the 1950s.
Initially Coco was ecstatic, for the bag was the same one her late mother had always wanted for her. And Coco was already thinking of keeping the bag for herself instead of selling it, despite the bag being worth a lot of money. But her ecstasy immediately disappeared when she discovered a decades-old letter hidden inside a compartment in the bag.
The letter, dated in year 1956, was anonymous – the writer, as well as the receiver, were unknown. But the letter was obviously written for someone very dear to the writer, whom he or she had to part with in an apparently tragic way that really broke his or her heart. The writer had been hopeful that they will someday reunite again. As soon as Coco read the letter, she was intrigued and suddenly felt the urge to find out more about the owner of the Chanel handbag as well as the story behind the letter.
Coco first contacted the auctioneer who sold the box of knick-knacks to her to get the name of the previous owner of the items. She learnt that the owner of the bag had been a Tatty Moynihan, but the elderly lady had been dead a few months. Tatty’s solicitor, Dermot Browne, was the one who managed the selling of all her belongings. Coco was then led to Dermot Browne who told her that Tatty had no family and she had requested all her belongings be auctioned off with the proceeds all going to charity.
Coco was somewhat devastated to know that Tatty had died alone, unmarried and childless – and she may have died without being reunited with her apparent lover, too. Coco became even more determined to find out more about the letter inside the bag – who knows if she could track down the supposed lover and tell him about how much he meant for Tatty that she had kept the letter with her for almost 60 years!
Based on information from Tatty’s solicitor, Coco tracked down the nurse who had been living with Tatty towards her death, hoping the former could provide some information about Tatty’s lover. The nurse, Mary Moore, did not know much about Tatty’s family, less so any information about a lover. But Mary Moore had been aware of a dear friend that Tatty had mentioned to her, namely a lady by the name Bonnie Bradbury.
Coco had no problems tracing Bonnie Bradbury, for she was an actress at a theatre in London. So Coco travelled all the way to London, and the journey had been very worthwhile: Coco obtained very important information from Bonnie regarding Tatty, the bag as well as the letter itself.
Bonnie and Tatty had been best friends, and they had shared a lot of secrets together. Much to Coco’s surprise, Bonnie revealed that the heartfelt letter was not from Tatty’s lover, but written by Tatty herself to her son whom she had named Duke Ellington.
Tatty had had an affair with a married man, who gifted her with the exclusive Chanel bag. Tatty later conceived a child with the man, but the man was not too pleased with the news that he later abandoned her. Despite that, Tatty was apparently still hopelessly in love with him: she cherished the Chanel bag he gave her, she was so in love with the baby she was pregnant with, and she had, obviously, never marry.
During the 1950s, getting pregnant out of wedlock was still a taboo in Ireland. Thus Tatty was not allowed to keep the baby for herself, no matter how much she had wanted to. Tatty had to part with the baby after giving birth to him; she had to leave the baby under the care of a convent which will later give him up for adoption. Thus the heartfelt letter expressing how much she loved her son and her high hopes of being reunited to him again someday. Unfortunately, many years later Tatty had never been able to track down the location of the couple who had adopted her baby Duke Ellington. She died without ever being reunited with her son.
The tragic story made Coco all the more determined to find Tatty’s missing son. She felt it was her responsibility to give Tatty’s letter to Duke Ellington so that he would know how much his birth mother actually loved him.
Coco then received assistance from her grand-aunt Anna who had a good friend in the convent where Tatty had reluctantly gave up baby Duke Ellington. Coco managed to obtain the name and address of the family who had adopted Duke. Apparently, Duke had been given a new name by his adoptive parents, and this had put a little bit of challenge for Coco to track down his identity.
Nevertheless, Coco made her journey to the address of the family who, according to the convent’s record, had adopted Duke. When she arrived, she was devastated to find that the previous owner, a James Flynn, had moved out and the house was now resided by a young man named Mac Gilmartin. Coco was very sure that James Flynn was Duke Ellington.
Luckily for Coco, Mac Gilmartin turned out to be a nice man and he offered to help Coco search for James Flynn. Mac Gilmartin checked with the agents who sold the house to him, and discovered that James Flynn was a violinist with the Irish String Collective Orchestra and lived an itinerant lifestyle.
Coco quickly searched for the orchestra’s next performance date and location, and found that they will be performing in Paris next. Coco was determined: she will be going to Paris!
Coco’s determination paid off when she managed to communicate with James Flynn, and he turned out to be a very nice middle-aged man. When Coco told him that she wanted to tell him something related to his mother, James was overwhelmed with emotion. He had been wondering about his birth parents ever since he was little, and had been trying to track their whereabouts but to no avail. Coco’s sudden appearance, with the Chanel bag and the letter that belonged to his mother, was a great blessing for James. He really appreciated the fact that Coco had took the pains to find him and reunite him with mementoes of his mother. As a gesture of appreciation, James only kept Tatty’s letter but gifted the Chanel bag to Coco instead, believing that the late Tatty would definitely wanted the bag for Coco, too.
Coco was extremely satisfied with her successful mission. The journey to find James Flynn had also been a journey of self-reflection and self-discovery for Coco. She herself had felt closer to her own late mother during the whole experience – after all, it began with a Chanel bag, which her mother had always wanted for her, and ended in Paris, the city her mother had loved so much and where she had met her death.
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