The Lie: The enthralling Richard and Judy Book Club favourite Paperback – 8 May 2014
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"[A] superb, timely novel of the First World War" (John Sutherland The Times)
"Helen Dunmore ... is a poet as well as a novelist, who is celebrated for her delicate language and acute observations. The Lie is no exception. This really is an expert novel." (Sunday Times)
"The bar for book of the year is set sky high by this heart wrenching tale. Daniel has survived the WWI trenches, but returns to Cornwall to find his family gone and home lost. He moves in with a childhood friend, but gets caught up in a lie that has terrible consequences. Tender, touching and totally absorbing." (Sunday Mirror)
"Never striking a false note, The Lie is one of those rare and arresting novels that make you think and feel with greater lucidity." (Daily Telegraph)
"The Lie is a tale of memory and loss delivered with quiet aplomb by one of our classiest writers ... Dunmore captures the emotional torment of her hero with tenderness and skill." (Mail on Sunday)
"Dunmore has brilliantly served up this past to us in a way that does not allow us to forget it" (Spectator)
"With a shocking twist in its tail, The Lie is a novel to re-read. Written with imagination, intelligence and integrity, it is both quiet and memorable. I predict it will outshine, and outlive, many another new rendition of the war to end all wars." (Country Life)
"An enthralling novel of love and devastating loss … Powerful storytelling." (Good Housekeeping, Book of the Month)
"Helen Dunmore, an author who has taken time to build up a following and gradually accumulated those much-required prize nominations, knows what she needs to make a story, and how to go about finding it. The result is a moving account of a young man's emotional life, and what brutality and death can do to it ... Dunmore has done her research and expertly so." (Scotland on Sunday)
"Dunmore writes with disarming simplicity and clarity. Read her novel in a single sitting in a quiet place." (The Times)
About the Author
Helen Dunmore was an award-winning novelist, children’s author and poet who will be remembered for the depth and breadth of her fiction. Rich and intricate, yet narrated with a deceptive simplicity that made all of her work accessible and heartfelt, her writing stood out for the fluidity and lyricism of her prose, and her extraordinary ability to capture the presence of the past.
Her first novel, Zennor in Darkness, explored the events which led D. H. Lawrence to be expelled from Cornwall on suspicion of spying, and won the McKitterick Prize. Her third novel, A Spell of Winter, won the inaugural Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996, and she went on to become a Sunday Times bestseller with The Siege, which was described by Antony Beevor as a ‘world-class novel’ and was shortlisted for the Whitbread Novel of the Year and the Orange Prize. Published in 2010, her eleventh novel, The Betrayal, was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize and shortlisted for the Orwell Prize and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and The Lie in 2014 was shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction and the 2015 RSL Ondaatje Prize.
Her final novel, Birdcage Walk, deals with legacy and recognition – what writers, especially women writers, can expect to leave behind them – and was described by the Observer as ‘the finest novel Helen Dunmore has written’. She died in June 2017, and in January 2018, she was posthumously awarded the Costa Prize for her volume of poetry, Inside the Wave.
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I love Helen Dunmore’s work, but I don’t think ithis is her best book. I found Daniel’s life in Cornwall, past and present, more compelling than his memories of the war, which although moving, contained nothing new.
Daniel Branwell returns to his home in Cornwall after the war. His mother has died and Daniel is, although not physically damaged, suffering from vivid flashbacks of his time in the trenches. He finds himself taken in by his mother’s friend, Mary Pascoe, an elderly woman who has a small cottage where she keeps a goat and chickens and grows vegetables. Before the war, Daniel had been forced by circumstances to leave school and work as a gardener and he now takes over the small holding, retreating to the comfort of physical work.
During this novel we learn, gradually, about Daniel’s childhood. His resentment at having to leave school when he was obviously extremely intelligent; plundering the library of his friend Frederick’s father, the volatile Mr Dennis, and his relationship with Frederick’s sister, Felicia. Almost everyone we meet in this novel has lost someone in the war, or knows someone who has been damaged. Indeed, Felicia herself has lost both her brother and her husband in the conflict. Daniel has to try to come to terms with what happened to him, and to Frederick, as well as try to rebuild his shattered life. Yet, how can he do so when Frederick keeps appearing to him and the dead will not seem to lie in their graves?
This is a book which discusses the trauma of war; guilt, suffering and the world that war left behind – shattering families and devastating communities – and yet it is also a novel about hope and re-growth. For a work with such huge themes, the story unfolds slowly and almost gently. An excellent choice for book groups, with much to discuss and, like all Helen Dunmore’s novels, one I am sure I will be re-reading before long.