During her brief time as a temporary secretary at the Appleton’s supermarket chain HQ, Christine Butcher has tried hard to make herself indispensable. But she is a little surprised that Mina Appleton, daughter of the CEO, wants her to become her personal assistant.
Appleton’s supermarkets’ reputation comes from their respect for their suppliers, a reputation that Lord Appleton upholds rigorously. But soon Mina has increasing control, with Christine, her loyal, discreet and hardworking secretary by her side. And it is not long before Lord Appleton retires under a cloud of embarrassment.
Mina is a national treasure, with much exposure on TV. She is the friend of the powerful and famous, and Christine is determined to keep her boss’s life running smoothly, even when ugly rumours of unethical practices within the company begin circulating. But Appleton’s is fast becoming a monster, and monsters are dangerous and should be killed, as Christine will find out to her cost.
The Secretary is written from Christine’s first-person point of view. It straddles between the past, from the day Christine starts at Appleton’s, and the present, when she is clearly no longer working and recovering from a traumatic event.
Christine is flawed. Her loyalty and behaviour with Mina are more obsession than dependability. She is at her boss’s beck and call to the detriment of her marriage and relationship with her daughter. She is more than a yes woman; she is Mina’s crucial unnoticed, undervalued better half. But she loves her position, even when her marriage falls apart. She is a woman I would like to shake extremely hard but can’t help liking. She justifies every stupid act, every stupid thought so convincingly that I am certain there must be thousands of hardworking women out there just like her.
Mina is vile. She is narcissistic, probably an undiagnosed sociopath, and rises by stamping over other people. She has no conscience, and although older than Christine, behaves like a petulant brat. She’s an excellent character, though I would run a mile from her in real life.
The other characters are less well developed, but this is forgivable as they are sufficiently distinguishable, and the story is so much about Christine’s relationship with Mina.
The story spans almost two decades, but there is no sense of it being slow-paced. The plot and its increasingly dark atmosphere crescendo beautifully into an ugly climax. Christine’s personal growth is quite the opposite, although she is a character who is easy to connect with.
Dialogue is tight and believable, though slightly generic. And although this is not a high-action story, there is a balance between introspection, dialogue and action. The writing is straightforward and well done. There is, thankfully, not an overload of description, but Renee Knight still manages to give the reader a feel of the milieus and a hint of the characters’ physiques. The Secretary is a great read.