The Lie by Helen Dunmore

In brief: Daniel returns from the war to a lonely cottage and the ghost of his best friend. Will his lie catch up with him?

The good: Helen Dunmore always writes beautifully.

The not-so-good: Not a lot happens.

Why I chose it: Loved The Siege
and The Betrayal.

Year: 2014

Pages: 304 (eARC)

Publisher: Random House

Setting: England (with flashbacks to France)

My rating: 6 out of 10

Helen Dunmore is an author I randomly stumbled upon in an airport bookstore, armed with too much foreign currency before returning home. I eagerly delved into both The Siege and The Betrayal, then got distracted by other pretty shiny books. I was really excited to read The Lie, but decided to hold off until 2014 to coincide with the centenary of the start of World War I. (Or life and other pretty shiny books got in the way. Take your pick).

On starting to read The Lie, I was instantly reminded of how fantastic Dunmore’s writing is. I don’t know how she does it, but I was instantly taken to a post WWI hillside, where a tiny cottage stood lonely on a hill. The atmosphere was there. I could see the protagonist, Daniel, lost in a world that was once his home. I could smell the odours he described evoking memories of the battlefield, mud, blood and death. I could see in my mind the horrors playing out within Daniel’s head. It was obvious to me that Daniel was hurting and wanted to be alone in the world while he tried to gather himself. That’s when The Lie happened. The Lie is at first subtle, but as Daniel begins to let his best friend’s sister (Felicia) into the picture, things start to get awkward. Added to the battle scenes playing in a loop, triggered by a movement, smell or nightmare, we know that Daniel’s in trouble.

For a long time, not much happens in the book. Daniel is taunted by nightmares and flashbacks. He tries to make himself useful with Felicia and her daughter Jeannie. He tries to integrate himself into a little of a normal life but always falls that tiny bit short. The Lie comes up occasionally, but Daniel manages to ward things off. People know that he hasn’t had an easy time and are sympathetic to the loss of his mother and best friend. But towards the end, the pace speeds up to Formula 1 level as Daniel’s lie becomes unravelled. His undoing is fast and furious, and the ending abrupt.

I didn’t think that The Lie showcased Dunmore’s talents as well as her other novels I’ve read. I feel the slow pace may put some people off. As for the integration of the present day with Daniel’s flashbacks, I liked how they were welded together into one stream of thought but again it could be confusing. The huge jump in tempo at the end was disconcerting too, as was the ending. It was difficult to see if Daniel had any room to move with The Lie once he was found out, but the ending was so quick and short. Perhaps it is likened to life on the battlefield?

I also wondered about the relationship between Daniel and Frederick. It was obvious that there was a close friendship between them from childhood, but there were a couple of scenes that made me wonder if they were lovers. If this was true, I would have preferred it to be more apparent, rather than just a hint here and there.

While wonderfully written, The Lie didn’t do enough to hold my interest for long periods of time.

11 thoughts on “The Lie by Helen Dunmore

Add yours

  1. I recently reviewed another book by this author (The greatcoat) and I didn’t like it that much either. I found the atmosphere enchanting, but not the plot and the characters.
    I suppose I’ll have to look for other of her novels, to see if I finally find what other people find in this author.

  2. I have never read this author and I know I should. Need to check out her other books as well.

  3. I loved this book but then I like that Dunmore does as she pleases and each book is different. I’d recommend Talking to the Dead if you want one that really packs a punch – and you don’t object to unlikeable characters.

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