By Helen Dunmore
Reviewed by Graeme Aitken
Cornwall, 1920: Daniel Branwell returns from the war to find he is homeless, with no family to turn to. His mother has died in his absence. However, Mary Pascoe, an old ailing friend of his mother’s, allows him to construct a rough shelter on her land. In return she extracts a promise from Daniel which is to ultimately have grave consequences. But Daniel is too damaged from the war to think of consequences or what may lie ahead – his thoughts are full of Frederick. He was Daniel’s closest friend since childhood and also his commanding officer, but Frederick did not return from the war. Daniel is literally haunted by the loss of him − he sees his ghost again and again, coated in noxious mud. As Daniel ekes out a lonely, subsistence existence on Mary’s small plot of land, his memory plays over his history with Fredrick. He remembers happier times, significant moments, lost chances and also the events leading up to Frederick’s death. He also reconnects with Frederick’s younger sister, Felicia, who is also much changed by the war.
The bond between Daniel and Frederick is delicately understated as is appropriate to this time, but a gay reader will comprehend what lies beneath and goes unspoken. Only once, on the eve of a perilous mission, does a brief moment of physical intimacy flare between these two young men.
The Lie is a subtly told but is an absolutely enthralling and affecting novel of love, memory and quiet tragedy. I loved it. Of all the novels I have read so far this year, The Lie is the one I have been most absorbed in and moved by. I highly recommend it.