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Those who went, and returned, generally preferred not to speak of their time away, fighting the Great War for Civilisation. Novelists brush that delicacy aside, telling us, what they perceive, as the true story, with their deeply researched work, albeit that which an earlier, more reserved generation wanted to be sealed away, tamped down, the terrible words to remain unspoken. Things that mothers, wives, children should not hear.

All this could make one feel slightly uneasy; an intruder in a place you have no right to enter. There is such a likelihood of cliché, repetition of myth, plus the hazard of adding a twenty first century gloss to what were so very definitely `different times'. The lid is off that box now, though, especially with the 100th anniversary upon us.

Along came The Flowers of the Field, which broke new ground around the subject for everyday readers, and then the brilliant Birdsong (Vintage War). Both had love affairs running through them and a great deal more content.

The Lie is more like a documentary. Daniel, Frederick and Felicia are our forebears. They are real folk, with completely believable histories, social and personal. There is such an earthiness, good and bad earth that is, about their accounts that it feels completely contemporary and correct. Their careful, measured behaviour towards each other is clear and understood; nothing jars.

Strangely enough there is pleasure to be had, in sunnier parts of this dark and ghastly tale. The power of nature to reassure, restore and revive. Domestic duties well carried out bring succour and sense of healing. The people who don't know, didn't go and stayed the same are horribly believable. There are however some slower sections that tried my patience; a padding out of what might have been a novella like The Greatcoat (Hammer).

Helen Dunmore has thought herself into the time and place she writes about, she is right there - the sounds, the smells, the emotions. Perhaps she has got it all right, encapsulated the horror, the shock, the disruptions. We cannot truly know. The one hundred years that have passed have changed perceptions, manners, tolerances and opinions but humans still have the same, honourable, moral instincts. In the end it is that which matters.
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