Review – The Lie by Helen Dunmore

By | January 27, 2014

Cornwall, 1920, early spring.

A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family.

Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life.

Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him.

He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?

It’s inevitable, I guess, and wholly appropriate, that this year will see a great number of novels addressing the horror and aftermath of the First World War. I’ve already read and reviewed the wonderful Wake by Anna Hope, and I’d highly recommend it to all. 

Helen Dunmore is an author with whom I have a bit of a love/hate relationship – the writing is always exquisite, but for every book of hers I’ve loved (The Betrayal was quite excellent) there are others I just haven’t been able to fully engage with. But her latest, The Lie, published on 16thJanuary by Random House UK/Cornerstone, is an absolute “must read” for all.

The story is quite a simple one. Daniel, broken and damaged by his wartime experience, returns to Cornwall, where he tends the crops for elderly recluse Mary Pascoe.  He meets up again with Felicia, the fragile sister of his boyhood friend Frederick – the friend who died when they were on a wartime raid, and whose ghost interrupts his sleep. In a series of flashbacks, we experience the boys’ childhood, Daniel’s of poverty, Frederick’s of privilege but great cruelty. And the story of what actually happened to Frederick is told through Daniel’s eyes, a heady mix of poetry and vivid description that will stay with me for a very long time.

The story unfolds slowly – the gentleness of Daniel’s relationship with Felicia set against the detailed descriptions of wartime horror. This won’t be a book everyone will enjoy, but I thought it was quite perfectly paced as the story moved to its inevitable conclusion under war’s “long shadow”. Quite beautiful – give it a try.

They say the war’s over, but they’re wrong. It went too deep for that.

My thanks to netgalley and the publishers for my advance reading e-copy.

Helen Dunmore is a British poet, novelist and children’s writer.  Educated at the University of York, she now lives in Bristol. She has won awards for her fiction (including the Orange Prize) and also for her poetry. She is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Some of her children’s books are now included in reading schemes for use in schools. For more detail about the author and her work, visit her excellent website.