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3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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After her prize-winning non-fiction work, Andrea Gillies turns her hand to fiction writing with this gripping debut novel 'The White Lie', a story of secrets, deceptions and family tensions and a wonderfully atmospheric and absorbing read. The Salters have lived at Peattie, a large estate in Scotland, complete with its own loch for generations and, being gentry, consider themselves to be practically a law unto themselves. One summer's day, Ursula Salter crashes into the drawing room, where the family are assembled, and confesses that she has killed her nineteen-year-old nephew, Michael. Ursula's older sister Ottilie, who is Michael's mother, and her twin sister, Joan, are aghast, as is their mother, Edith, their father, Henry, and the rest of the Salter clan. However, Ursula, as the family say, has her 'peculiarities' and gets confused, so the family are not entirely sure that she is telling the truth - but when Alan, the family handyman-gardener, follows Ursula into the house and corroborates her story, saying that she pushed Michael into the loch and then hit him repeatedly with an oar, the family has to deal with the situation in the only way they know how. And that is to cover up the tragedy with an alternative version of events in order to protect Ursula. But what actually happened? No body can be found - did Ursula really kill Michael? And what about Sebastian - Ottalie, Joan and Ursula's younger brother, who was drowned when he was four years old - what really happened to him?

This is a very gripping tale, with a large cast of skilfully created characters (there is a family tree at the beginning of the book to avoid confusion) and a strong narrative drive. Andrea Gillies has written an unusual, unsettling and intelligent novel - a story of claustrophobic family feuds, rivalries and deceptions and a story which keeps the reader guessing right to the end (and kept me up until the early hours so that I could finish the book). 'The White Lie' is a very compelling read and one I am happy to recommend - I shall certainly be looking out for Andrea Gillies next novel.
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on 12 June 2012
I've got to hand it to my wife Marion; when it comes to choosing good books, she really is an expert. She trawls through all the book reviews in the weekend supplements and adds the ones she fancies to the Amazon wish list and then, when we've both read everything on the Kindles, she downloads four or five from the list. I had just finished reading Middlesex a week of so back and saw The White Lie by Andrea Gillies turn up on the Kindle home screen. I had no idea what it was about so dived into it completely unaware of what to expect.

What I found was an intriguing tale of a Scottish family dynasty told by Michael who stood to inherit Peattie, the once magnificent but now crumbling Salter family pile set in acres of beautiful Scottish countryside. But Michael is telling his story from a watery grave - the wonderful loch on the estate plays an important role in the book.

What is the white lie to which the title of the book refers? Although it is revealed towards the end of the novel there is, in fact, a multiplicity of lies throughout as the book charts the tragedies and family intrigues that have faced the Salters over many years. Although principally a tale of relationships there is an element of the "whodunnit" to the story and Andrea Gillies leads the reader off on a number of false trails and presents us with plenty of red herrings to keep our interest throughout what is a relatively long book.

I enjoyed it immensely - it evokes a brilliantly atmospheric feeling of the deep dark Scottish loch, the rambling old house that is not quite a stately home but has dozens of rooms and plenty of secrets and, most importantly, the age old dilemmas of family loyalties. My only problem with this excellent book was the size of that family. I had the same problem when I read A S Byatt's The Children's Book last year. Gillies writes in the accompanying notes at the end of the book that she started out with a family tree as she set out to write her novel. I would have welcomed this family tree appearing somewhere for easy reference as, at times, if felt as if we had a cast of hundreds. I'm happy to say that I eventually got to know who everybody was. Marion hasn't read it yet but I know that she'll love it.

Since writing the above it has been pointed out to me that there IS a family tree in the print version and also in the ebook. I somehow missed it - don't do the same!
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on 30 January 2013
I just finished this book on the Kindle. If you like stories that leap back and forward in time and are slow to develop the characters and unveil the clues to the mystery of the White Lie that was told, you'll love it. I found it frustrating!
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on 27 February 2012
A wonderful book, beautifully written. Exceptionally descriptive with a haunting plot. This book is all about the consequences of telling a white lie and how they last a life time. The Salter family are all living with a secret that is slowly destroying them and their relationships. A party to celebrate a special birthday brings all the family back together and the secrets slowly unravel. It would make a wonderful film or television series.
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on 25 September 2012
I picked up this book with eager anticipation, but by the time I was half way through I had no idea what my review was going to consist of when I arrived at the end. I found that sometimes I would pick it up and enjoy reading, other times I would feel irritated by it and find it difficult to concentrate on what I was reading. Now the last page has been turned I'm not really much wiser.
The author uses very original language in the descriptive passages which is alternately either very entertaining and illuminating, or rather obscure. I did, however, have the house, loch, and gardens very firmly in my mind, and the atmosphere created is appropriately gloomy and mysterious, with the plot having its fair share of red herrings and surprises as the suspense builds.
What let it down for me was the characterisation. The reader is told so little about the characters that it is difficult to relate to them. They are all rather odd, as might be expected in the context of the story, but there is no warmth between them at all, no love expressed; just secrets, lies and denial. There are many rifts between family members, and I found it all very cold and easy to distance myself from emotionally. Only Mog felt like a real person to me, and some of those on the family tree could have been dispensed with altogether, as they might be referred to occasionally, but actually have no role in the plot. Some of the strands of the story feel rather disjointed as well, and in a few cases irrelevant.
I didn't find the characters confusing, although this is a large family, but I did struggle with the various versions of events told by some of the characters at different points in the story. According to who was deceiving who at the time for whatever motive, details of events changed, and this I found difficult to keep track of. I think the strength of the story lies in its moral. Where there are lies, white or otherwise, there are consequences. Deceit and denial create isolated, fearful and stilted lives, as the burden of secrecy becomes hard to carry. These behaviours are the bedrock upon which dysfunctional lives are built and this comes across very clearly.
This author clearly has talent, but her writing style is just not to my taste. I felt at times the writing was trying to be too clever, and it didn't quite come off for me.
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VINE VOICEon 19 March 2012
Short review for those who are in a hurry:
If you enjoy reading, you'll enjoy this book. Read it!

Shortish review for those who don't want the detail:
All the things that make a great book are here. There's a good story, wonderfully crafted writing, a perfect pace and this novel is just as long as it needs to be. Read it!

Longer review for those who are kind enough to let me indulge myself:
Maybe it's just me but I love a novel with a family tree at its beginning. It suggests to me the kind of epic that I used to enjoy from John Irving, something I can really get my teeth into, and The White Lie doesn't disappoint. I won't tell the story here - you can buy the book for that - but the family saga starts off with an immediately intriguing entrée into one of those apparently wealthy families much favoured by Iain Banks.
The story gathers pace slowly, although the quality of the writing and the detail of the characters and setting is so absorbing that the gentle gain in momentum isn't immediately apparent. Indeed, this is one of those books I could enjoy reading even if nothing really happened. But there is a story and it slowly becomes more intense as the book progresses, accelerating to a point of fever pitch before catching its breath and descending into a post-climactic peace and resolution.
All the way through, Andrea Gillies' writing is beautifully judged, always considered but with a lightness of touch and occasional humour that makes it a pleasure to read. It is a book I came to inhabit so that on finishing it, I felt slightly disoriented, as if I'd left somewhere without properly saying my goodbyes. In fact, the characterisation is so strong that I found myself wondering what happened to the story's inhabitants after the book had ended.
Of course, I can't say it will be everyone's cup of tea but there's only one way you'll find out and that is to read it!
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on 10 April 2013
I honestly thought this book sounded good when i read the description about it. I had this as a christmas present and only just kind of read. I read up to page 122 and could not read any more. For a book that started of well. Michael being hit and killed with an oar on a boat. Michael telling the story sounded great at first. Then the story just started to plod along. I then felt deflated with not enough in the story. I became unimpressed as the story just rambled on and on about the accident/killing. Although there is a diagram of the family tree at the start of this book I still became confussed. I totally agree with many other readers the book became complicated with far to many characters. I did not either engage with any of the characters, they simply were not interesting enough. The only thing good about this book was the descriptions of the location,the house and the grounds. However some readers and even book clubs may love reading this book.
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on 15 March 2012
At first one could mistake some of the elements of this first novel as being reminiscent of Daphne DuMaurier and Rebecca, but whilst we have a house and a family whose daily lives seem governed by the ghost that they do not acknowledge nor confess to the outside world, there is far more direct access to the inner lives of the characters, whether alive or dead and less of the sort of manipulation that was a part of DuMaurier. What Andrea Gillies is so good at is describing the world of a family who are living according to an idea and ideal of life that has become defunct, but who continue doing so, each for the unwilling others. The atmosphere of claustrophobia is palpable, and the subtle descriptions of the faltering standards of the house as a metaphor for the waning of the family are faultless. As such it makes a statement about the loss of a raison d'etre for these sorts of insular, perhaps privileged, lives in a far harder modernity. Guided by a far-seeing ghost, we can see as readers further than the protagonists, but we cannot predict the outcome or the steps taken to reach it, as this is writing with nothing trite or predictable about it. Perhaps the most poignant idea though, is that the dead can expect no reunions, making solving the errors of life for the living more important.
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on 23 April 2012
I enjoyed having to work a little while reading this engrossing book. There are a lot of people in it, but they are all interesting, and sometimes very surprising. The narrative flips back and forth and journeys down many side alleys before returning each time to the central theme - what happened to Michael? But this book is about much more than that. It's also about the effect of secrets and lies over time on a largely inward-looking family in a largely isolated place.

The family's history is told and retold from differing points of view, through various events over time, and as the reader gains more oversight some surprising pieces of information gathered along the way eventually fall into place. It has a very useful family tree at the beginning to help you make sense of the initial maze of family relationships.

The very difficult relationship between twins Joan and Ottilie is wonderfully portrayed, as are their own difficult characters. Who else would buy a cottage 'purely on the basis of its irritation value'? And who else would give their child clothes a size too small for Christmas 'as an incentive'? I was horribly fascinated by the disturbed and disturbing Ursula, wanted to wallop the odious Johnnie and laughed out loud at Vita and her six-point potential husband test.

Carefully crafted, thoughtful and with great characters.
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on 1 April 2012
This was one of the first books I bought for my Kindle. I always read the beginning and the end of a new book. The acid test for me is whetherI still want to know what happens in the middle. Not a very literary process but it works for me and it certainly worked here.

I tried to ration my reading but got to the point where the family went unfed, work that I was supposed to have finished off over the weekend was ignored and even the wailing cat couldn't distract me. My Kindle may as well have been glued to my fingers.

The characters are true and believable. Whilst some are obnoxious; there are others that I will miss now I've finished the book. I was delighted to find that my own husband met with Vita's six criteria, I wanted Mog to find happiness more than anything else, and I hated Joan and Johnnie with a passion. Every family has its skeletons but this one has more than most and whilst the secrets are kept for the best of reasons, they have far-reaching and devastating effects.

'The White Lie' made me laugh and cry when I read it. I love this book and hope other people will too.
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