No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Saturday, September 08, 2012

2012/39: The Book of Lies -- Mary Horlock

...hate or anger is passed down from one person to another, and you never hit the right target because you always aim too late. [loc. 3231]
Set on Guernsey, The Book of Lies comprises two narrative threads: that of teenage Catherine in the 1980s, who begins her story by telling us she killed her friend Nicolette; and that of her Uncle Charles, who -- looking back from the 1960s -- records his perspective on the events of his own teenage years, during the German Occupation.

Catherine -- Cat -- and Charles are very different people, but as the novel progresses it becomes clear that they also share certain traits and circumstances. Both have lost their fathers (and perhaps blame themselves); both are desperate to escape the island. Both are liars, whose stories spiral out of their control with disastrous consequences. Both are bullied and tormented until they snap. And more concrete concordances gradually emerge: a house, a name, a particular spot on the cliffs ...

The mood is claustrophobic: Cat is trapped in the tangled web of small-town society, Charles is living under martial law. Of course things were at once simpler and more dangerous in wartime, but the urge to escape -- if not physically, then into the bottle or into imagination -- is a constant, whether the peril is mortal or simply monotonous.

I found Charles' account, with its evocation of wartime life and its frequent interpolations of patois (‘Si nous pale du guiabye nous est saure d’l’y’vais les caurnes’ … ‘Speak of the devil and you shall see horns’ [loc 320]) interesting and credible, but for me it lacked immediacy. Cat, though, was compelling: clever, precocious, unpopular, eaten up with rage and grief but lacking the tools to identify or temper them. (Her mother's emotionally distant: but then she, too, is grieving. And lying.)

The only note that didn't quite ring true is the lack of music. I can't imagine a teenager in the mid-Eighties being completely oblivious to music ...
... or perhaps I'm projecting.

Anyway: highly recommended, well-researched and taut with emotional conviction.

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