on 5 March 2011
I was given this book as a present and read it, in the whirl of London life and work, within three days, using every free moment I had. It is a gripping story, impresssively told, deep and complex - a rare exploration of an important moment of real history, kept under wraps for decades, in the suspenseful style of a crime novel with memorable characters and racy language. The Book of Lies is about history, but also about the darkest corners of the human psyche, the desire for truth and the dangers of both truth-telling and lying. It probes into the dark side of an oppressed, constrained society, teenage angst, viciousness and resilience with a power that made me think of Lord of the Flies.
A very rewarding read. Unputdownable.
Catherine Rozier is wonderful - you might not like her, but her view of the world is vivid, funny and heart-breakingly sad by turn. She's a wonderfully unreliable narrator, and Mary Horlock gets under her skin incredibly well. Writing as a teenager isn't easy - she cracks it.
The alternating Uncle Charlie wartime narrative worked for me too - this isn't Potato Pie Guernsey, this is cruel and raw.
This is a really clever and well written book exploring issues like truth and guilt in a dark, funny, and original way. And a word about the footnotes - they irritated me to death at the start, but provided a wonderful opportunity for witty asides that really grew on me as the book went on. Different and really enjoyable.
on 13 April 2011
I read a lot - in my lunch hour, in bed, in the bath, while I cook supper - my books take a lot of punishment! Rarely do I find one that I sinmply CANNOT put down but The Book of Lies was one of these rare treasures. It really became quite inconvenient, between my desperation to find out what happens to Cat and, in the parallel story, to her Uncle Charlie, I read far too late into the night, while the water cooled and saucepans overflowed - oh yes and I also nearly got into trouble at work! The voice of Cat is utterly convincing and chilling and yet (especially the footnotes which I loved) somehow at the same time very funny. The historical background to Guernsey's Occupation has obviously been thoroughly researched and friends who live on the Island tell me that - unlike some other books - it is very accurate. So despite the title of the book, no lies there. Having reached the end I was then immediately compelled to read it again so I could relish the wonderful use of words and pick up on nuances I had missed the first time. A truly brilliant book by a new author - I cannot wait for her next one!
on 11 October 2013
The Book of Lies is two linked stories of Guernsey, the first, told by a teenage girl(Catherine)in the mid 1980s, and the second, by her uncle Charles, recalling the deaths of Catherine's grandfather and uncle during the German occupation.
I found the novel a rather tortuous read, despite the many other reviewers who seem to have got a lot more from it than I. I found neither of the narrators particularly engaging personalities. Catherine came across as rather shallow, with understandable teenage obsessions, but with no glimpse of any emerging substance or maturity. Charlie too was a less than engaging person who never really showed the courage of his convictions.
The pace of both narratives was slow, and at no time did the writing inspire me to read on. I finished the book, because I felt there must be more to it, and in the end, there wasn't. And I was curious about the vast number of page by page footnotes which provided often opinionated comment about background events. What was their purpose? They neither added to the narratives, nor told me anything which I have not read elsewhere about Guernsey's war and post-war history. They were a distraction.
I am sorry I can be no more positive. But this is not a novel which I enjoyed.
on 21 March 2011
I am a busy mum of 2 with a part-time job and very little time but once I started this I could not put it down and MADE time to read it. Right from the attention-grabbing opening of a teenage girl hovering on a cliff edge. Catherine Rozier is a brilliant creation - full of teenage angst and melodrama - scribbling frantically in her diary in 1985 she tells the tragic story of her ill-fated friendship with the now dead Nicolette. Catherine's a proper know-it-all, and she just can't help adding footnotes, and congratulating herself when she uses a particularly long word. Add to this her misery at being stuck on what she calls a 'miserable rock' - the island of Guernsey - and her daily entries make for for heady and hilarious reading.
But Catherine's breathless rantings are intercut with another voice. Her (now long dead) Uncle Charlie recorded his own memories of the island from when he was a teenager. His story, punctuated by snippets of old Guernsey patois, is very different in tone, but then Charlie was a teenager when Guernsey was occupied by the Germans during the war. He's eager to tell you all the things the Guernsey Tourist Board don't ever want you to hear. He talks of mass graves and informers, and, most importantly, he talks about his closest friend, the friend that betrayed him to the Nazis and ruined his chances of escaping.
Now it gets complicated: Charlie is telling his story to his brother and Catherine's father, Emile Rozier, a man who devoted his life to exposing the truth about the German Occupation, and whose books and journals care crammed in every corner of the family home.
It's soon apparent that Catherine isn't just trying to explain what happened between her and Nicolette, she's trying to explain what happened to her family. Her and Charlie's stories intertwine like creeping ivy, coming closer and closer together, occasionally spliced by an old letter written by Emile, complaining to someone about the depiction of Channel Islanders as collaborators, etc.
It's clear that neither Catherine or Charlie have such a firm grip on the truth. But then, we increasingly ask, what is the truth, and who is really guilty?
There's some serious questions in the book about the shifting nature of history, and despite the switching back and forth between narrators the plot is precise. Horlock layers everything carefully, never letting you know too much, and keeps you on that cliff edge right to the brilliant and terrifying conclusion.
It's a brilliant book - the danger it you'll read it too quickly and miss some of the subtleties. Anyone who thinks they know about the German Occupation from reading 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society' should think again, because it's clear Horlock (who I note grew up on Guernsey) has dug an awful lot deeper. It's frightening, funny and very, very original
on 4 October 2012
Here we have two stories skilfully woven together to form one brilliant debut novel. One story takes place on the island of Guernsey in 1985 and Catherine, our wonderfully articulate and amusing main narrator, confesses that she has killed her school friend. She then goes on to explain how this happened and what she plans to do next. Her father, who has recently died, was a local historian who wrote extensively about the history of the island and in particular, about the period during World War II when the Channel Islands were occupied by the Nazis. At the time of his sudden death he was studying a testimony written by his older brother Charlie, who was arrested by the German occupiers and sent to a concentration camp. It is the story of Charlie's teenage years that forms the book's second thread and the similarities between the two stories are striking. This small island and its inhabitants still feel the effects of their wartime experiences, islanders have long memories and most families have secrets they hope will stay hidden.
Catherine/Cat (please, don't ever call her Cathy!) is a brilliant narrator who can find humour in even the darkest places. Whatever you do, do NOT ignore the footnotes she has scattered liberally through the book as they are very amusing. For example when she mentions Alderney, another of the Channel Islands, she adds a footnote to explain that there are more pubs than people on this island and consequently Alderney could be described as 25,000 alcoholics clinging to a rock. She is even more unkind about the Islanders of Sark!
This is a fascinating and very enjoyable book, covering such issues as friendship and betrayal, family loyalties and also what it is like to grow up on a very small island. I look forward to reading Ms Horlock's next book.
on 21 August 2011
This book has two pathways that meet at the end. One is the writer's tale, an overweight, unpopular schoolgirl who has been chosen by a pretty, popular, manipulative girl as a plaything. Her father has died, her mother is busy keeping herself, their small printing business and the household together, just about, and she has discovered her father's papers about what happened in Guernsey during World War II. The other path follows her uncle's story of his wartime experiences, misunderstandings and disasters that led to his imprisonment and a family reputation which our anti-heroine's dad is obsessed with restoring.
All teenagers think that their home town is dull, but most of us can get on a train or a bus to somewhere else for the day. In Guernsey, it's rather more tricky, so we can understand that Catherine Rozier's boredom and frustration. The opening sentence has her confessing to her friend's murder, and the rest of the book explains how this happened, and why. There's no point skipping to the end; the story unrolls rather than unfolds, leading us along with it.
The Guernsey Tourist Board, or Visit Guernsey or whatever they call it, must have cried buckets when they read it. All these years telling its potential visitors about its perfect beaches, mild weather and delightful welcome. All the while, people still bandaging over their unhealed wound. But it makes me want to visit more not less. Their complicated recent history is fascinating and distressing, but deserves to be heard. A novel is as good as way as any to discover it.
I really enjoyed this book for so many reasons. It is well written set in 1985 mainly in the style of a teenage journal where Catherine Rozier tells the tale to her mother of what happened to Nicolette. This story is cleverly intersperced with the writings of her father Emile Rozier, a baby at the start of the occupation, who is obsessed with events during the Occupation of Guernsey by the Germans. Emile is trying to expose the truth of what happened within his own family during this time and he has notes dictated by his brother Charlie dating back to the 1960's.
The book uses footnotes, which I would normally find irritating but Cat's are often funny wry observations "Guernsey has no Value Added Tax which means you get 15% more alcohol for your money. This also means most people have a drink problem" There are also links between the last part of Cat's writings and that of Emile's. We are treated to some Patois which is Guernsey French but in bite size phrases so you get a good idea of what the translation is. These devices give the book a fresh feel for this amazing debut by Mary Horlock.
This story deals with complex subjects, what is the truth, if something is repeated often enough does it become true. The nature of guilt and how people cope with it. Peer pressure and a fear of not being part of the crowd for teenagers of both sexes. Teenagers wanting to be grown up and powerful and adults who are acting stupidly. Family relations, Cat misses her father but acknowledges they didn't have the relationship she would have liked. The reality of living in a community where everyone knows everyone, secrets are hard to keep and rumour can spread fast through the population.
The Book of Lies is an easy read despite all of this, but it is also one of those books you will want to return to in case you missed something the first time round.
For all of the above reasons, and more, I have awarded this book 5* despite living in Jersey where we have a friendly rivalry with our sister Channel Island, Guernsey. Jersey was also occupied during the war with the same issues of those who didn't evacuate living under German rule, coping with this, and the starvation rations caused Islander to turn against Islander. The book is so believable as, despite the title, it is based on truth. Would be a great book to give a teenager too.
I was intrigued by the description of the book and I am delighted to say that it did not disappoint.
The back of the book says, "It's been a fortnight since they found her body and for the most part I am glad she's gone. But I also can't believe she's dead, and I should do because I did it." This intriguing quotation concerns the actions of a 15 year old girl, Catherine Rozier who believes that she has killed her friend/enemy Nicolette Prevost.
The whole book builds up to this pivotal moment but is a far far richer experience. The book is set on Guernsey in 1985 and concerns not only the schoolgirl antagonisms of Catherine and Nicolette but also the family relations and the secrets and lies of the island's recent past when it was occupied by the Germans during the Second World War. The book provides a fascinating glimpse into a very insular society in which families are haunted by acts of complicity and acquiescence during the period of occupation. It does not paint Guernsey in a particularly flattering light.
Mary Horlock draws all the threads of the story in a masterly fashion and it really kept my attention right to the end. I loved reading it and hope that it becomes a best seller - it certainly deserves to be.
The book reminded me a bit of Joanne Harris, particularly Five Quarters of the Orange and Gentlemen and Players. I would say that it is definitely as good as those and I look forward to other books by Mary Horlock.
A gripping story, that I read in one sitting on a train journey - an excellent debut from Mary Horlock, who portrays her principal characters so well, and evokes such vivid memories of teenage years.
It alternates between 1985 with the story of Cat, and 1965 as her Uncle Charlie relates his memories of the German occupation of Guernsey to his brother, and the parallels of love, hate, betrayal and guilt are beautifully drawn.
It may be fiction, but is based on a strong framework of historical accuracy and an intimate knowledge of this island, with its flawed beauty.
The characters do lie, with both good and not-so-good intentions, but the story is as much about our perception of history to fit our current situation, and as it draws to a close the facade of accepted/convenient truth is peeled aside layer by layer until uncomfortable reality is laid bare.
An excellent read - I feel I need to revisit it in case I missed anything in my haste to finish the story - I hope you enjoy it as much as I did