The Lie – Helen Dunmore + Giveaway

Giveaway now closed.

Daniel Bramwell, 21, has returned from the First World War to the small village on the Cornish coastline in which he grew up. Rather than leaving death behind him, he’s spending every day facing it: his mum died while he was at war; Mary Pascoe, the woman whose land he’s been living on dies shortly after his return, and he’s haunted by the death of his best friend, Frederick:

He comes to me, clagged in mud from head to foot. A mud statue, but a breathing one. The breath whistles in and out of him. He stands at my bed-end. Even when the wind is banging over the roof that I’ve bodged with corrugated iron, it’s very quiet. He doesn’t speak. Sometimes I wish that he would break the silence, but then I’m afraid of what he might say. I can smell the mud. You never forget the reek of it. Thick, almost oily, full of shit and rotten flesh, cordite and chlorine of lime. He has got himself coated all over with it. He’s camouflaged. He might be anything but I know who he is.

Daniel and Frederick Dennis grew up together. Daniel’s mother cleaned Albert House, the Dennis family home, and when Mrs Dennis died, Daniel’s mother looked after the children, Frederick and Felicia. Daniel was treated practically as family, eating tea with them and staying overnight if one of them was sick. As they grew up, the differences between the two families became more apparent – Frederick went to boarding school while Daniel went to work. Daniel’s education came largely from the books he borrowed from Albert House, a library Mr Dennis had bought for show.

Daniel uses his book learning throughout the novel to express his feelings. He often quotes poetry to Frederick at Frederick’s request but after Frederick’s death, he seems to use it to refer to him. Early in the novel, Daniel talks about ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’:

He killed an albatross. It seems petty to me. But the albatross I suppose was not only an albatross. It was the thing without which you can continue to live, but no longer be human.

Oh! Dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk
Is this mine own countree?

But how can it be? If you kill the albatross, you can never come back to your own country. You’ll be happier if you stop hoping for it.

The thing without which Daniel continues to live is Frederick. To try and return to his own country, he has literally returned to the land. He tells us that he was living on the edge of Mary Pascoe’s land until her death when he’s moved into the house and begun growing fruit and vegetables and looking after the chickens and the goat.

But this set up is going to cost Daniel dearly. Mary Pascoe knew she was dying and her last wish was ‘to die under her own hedge’. Initially, Daniel just doesn’t tell anyone she’s died – she seems to lack friends and no one comes to the house – but then it becomes too late to tell anyone and when Felicia comes calling he lies:

‘Mary’s ill,’ I say quickly. ‘She’s sleeping.’

It’s inevitable that Daniel’s lie will be discovered and the move towards that moment drives the narrative on.

The Lie is the story of a young soldier trying to make sense of the horror he’s lived through and the guilt he feels over the death of his ‘blood brother’.  It’s often harrowing and heart breaking. Dunmore’s storytelling is so vivid that when I picked up the novel to re-read it for review, having first read it last summer, I found I was still holding whole scenes in my head. This is a wonderful novel by one of Britain’s greatest writers.

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And I have a fantastic treat for one of you. Thanks to Hutchinson, I have a signed proof of The Lie to give away. As this is such a great prize, there’s a little task to do to win it. I want to know what’s the best lie you’ve ever told. Leave your answer in the comment section by 5pm GMT on Sunday 19th January. I am accepting worldwide entries.

To get you started, this is mine: Two summers ago we decided to take my stepson to Legoland. Knowing how excited this would make him, we only told him we were going to stay with my best friend and her husband and son for a few days. The day before we were due to go to Legoland, we told him we were planning to go on a really long walk the following day and he could either come with us or stay with my best friend and her family. He chose to come with us. He was very quiet in the car – no questions about whether we were there yet – and as we turned into Legoland, my husband said ‘Look.’ ‘Legoland,’ my stepson said, ‘Can we go there?’ He was beside himself when my husband replied, ‘We are there.’ It was my best lie because it made a little boy very happy.

Over to you…

Edit: Wow! Those are some incredible lies. When I set the question, I thought it would be easy to choose a winner but I’m struggling and I also need to disclose that Cath is a friend of mine, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to choose. I’ve decided, therefore, to hand it over to the random number generator. All entrants have been allocated a number on order of entry (I’m allowing theagegap’s entry to stand as I was late to close this). And the generator says:

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Congratulations, Lisa, there’s an email on its way to you. Thanks to everyone else for entering.

Thanks to Hutchinson for the review copy.