WWI literature is a huge interest of mine and after reading the eerie and sad The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore I was really looking forward to reading her latest novel, The Lie.
It tells the story of Daniel, a young man who has returned from fighting in France and is taken in by a reclusive elderly lady called Mary Pascoe. He is traumatised by the events of the war, in particular the death of his childhood best friend Frederick who he blames himself for. When Mary falls ill, he promises her that he will follow her wishes that she dies peacefully at home and is buried on her own land not in the graveyard. When she does pass away, he is so in shock with his life, that he begins the lie to the villagers that she is still alive...
The Lie is a very atmospheric novel set in rural Cornwall which is full of foreboding images. There is a similarity with The Greatcoat in the idea of lost dead souls being unsettled and visiting those still alive, with Frederick being at the foot of Daniel's bed each evening. There are flashbacks to Daniel's childhood spent with Frederick and his sister Felicia, who makes her way back into Daniel's life as a widowed young woman with a baby. Felicia and her child slowly give some purpose to Daniel' life as he comes to terms with what he has been through but his lies are difficult to erase.
Helen Dunmore has a very poetic style of writing, with the odd moment of unsparing brutality which is very effective. While The Lie covers the usual WWI material of guilt and lost youth and innocence, this is unlike any other WWI novel I have read before. It is obvious that the author has a real passion on this subject and I hope that she writes more. This is a heart-wrenching, poignant but beautiful book which has elements of hope and normality before the inevitable conclusion to Daniel's lie.