Overview

Set during and just after the First World War, The Lie is an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel of love, memory and devastating loss by one of the UK's most acclaimed storytellers.



Cornwall, 1920, early spring.



A young man stands on...

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The Lie

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Overview

Set during and just after the First World War, The Lie is an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel of love, memory and devastating loss by one of the UK's most acclaimed storytellers.



Cornwall, 1920, early spring.



A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family.



Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life.



Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him.



He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
★ 02/01/2014
Many men who come home from war physically unharmed are so emotionally scarred that they have no clear idea how to live the rest of their lives. When he returns to Cornwall in 1920 at the end of World War I, Daniel Branwell has lost his mother, his home, and his dearest friend, Frederic Dennis. So when an old neighbor falls ill and dies, Daniel quietly buries her, moves into her cottage, and tends her small farm, laying low and hoping to escape notice. Plagued by childhood and wartime memories, he seeks out Frederic's sister, having grown up with the Dennis children despite the vast difference in their circumstances (Daniel's mother worked in the grand Dennis home). But the war separates Daniel, a private, and Frederic, an officer, until Frederic's company is wiped out and the two friends end up together in a deadly battle. VERDICT As the 100th anniversary of World War I approaches, there will be many new books about the conflict. Orange Prize winner Dunmore's sad and searing portrait of a young man shattered by his experiences and haunted by his losses will be one of the standouts. [See Prepub Alert, 10/28/13.]—Barbara Love, Kingston Frontenac P.L., Ont.
Publishers Weekly
★ 02/17/2014
In this moving and complex novel from Dunmore (Orange Prize winner for A Spell of Winter), 21-year-old Daniel Branwell has returned to his small Cornish community after World War I, haunted by the specter of the close childhood friend he lost, whose ghostly manifestations seem so real that Branwell can actually smell the vile combination of “shit and rotten flesh, cordite and choloride of lime.” After the death of Mary Pascoe, a reclusive elderly neighbor who allowed Branwell to build a shelter on her land, he moves into her cottage, fulfilling one of her final wishes. The move should have given the returned veteran some stability, but nothing is that simple for him; he keeps Pascoe’s death a secret, believing no one would care about her passing, and tells those who ask that she is unwell and that he’s taking care of her. Flashbacks graphically depict Branwell’s grim experiences during the war, even as, in the book’s present, he fears that his lie cannot be sustained for the long term. Dunmore does a superb job of capturing her lead’s inner torment, even as his story creeps toward a shattering conclusion. (Apr.)
From the Publisher

Advance praise for THE LIE:

"[A]moving and complex novel...Dunmore does a superb job of capturing her lead’s inner torment, even as his story creeps toward a shattering conclusion."—Publishers Weekly

“[A] tender tale… subtle and enduring...A quiet tragedy… a poet's feeling for language shines through the descriptions of the landscape…in this novel Dunmore has wreaked tenderness out of tragedy, so that the reader is left with the sense that something beautiful, however fleeting, has been salvaged from the darkness.”—The Observer (UK)

“Heartbreaking… the emotional power resonates.”—Kirkus Reviews

“Distinguished by the sensual, compact intensity of Dunmore’s prose, The Lie lays bare on its local canvas the invisible wounds of a global catastrophe.”— Independent (UK)

“The Lie is a fine example of Dunmore’s ability to perceive the long vistas of history in which the dead remain restless…It is a book in which ghosts, perhaps, remain imaginary: but they are none the less real for that.”—Guardian (UK)

“Helen Dunmore’s two resources are imagination and research. She’s strong on both counts…a very good novel. 2014 is a very good year to read it.”—The Times UK)

“Visceral and elegantly plotted.”—Daily Mail (UK)

“An enthralling novel of love and devastating loss… Powerful storytelling.”—Good Housekeeping, Book of the Month

“Orange-prize winning author Helen Dunmore explores the relationship between two First World War soldiers: Daniel, who survived, and his childhood friend Frederick, who died, plus Daniel’s ambiguous bond with Fredericks’ sister Felicia. A dark and haunting exploration of grief and guilt.”—Sunday Express, Hot Books for 2014

“Famed for her searing accounts of the siege of Leningrad and its aftermath, Helen Dunmore moves to England after the First World War in The Lie. She chronicles the struggle of a young man without family and homeless amid the quiet landscape of Cornwall, trying to escape his memories of trench warfare.”—Daily Express, Top titles for 2014

“Exceptionally good.”—Western News

“The writing, even at its most harrowing, is suffused with poetry and evocative description…a heart-wrenching portrait of psychological crucifixion.”—Literary Review

“An extraordinarily affecting novel…crunchingly powerful…what’s most heartbreaking about the novel is the hesitant, awkward intimacy between Daniel and Felicia.”—Reader's Digest

“Exciting…the four year wait for this new novel promises to be well worth it.”—The Upcoming.com, Five books to watch out for in 2014
“A stunning, understated novel that breathes with authenticity…Surely a must for all the prize lists.”—Bookseller

“An enthralling, heart-wrenching novel of love, memory and devastating loss by one of the UK’s most acclaimed storytellers… If you only read one novel in 2014 set during WWI, this must be the one.”—Absolutely West

Praise for Helen Dunmore:

“Dunmore captures how a single moment can change the course of a life.” —Gillian Flynn, Entertainment Weekly

“Dunmore’s carefully observed stories demonstrate her ear for language and her eye for the telling moment.” —The New York Times Book Review

“Her writing is both elegant and revealing.”—The Seattle Times

“Dunmore’s rich writing [is] by turns muscular and poetic.”—The Washington Post

“When reading Dunmore, there is always the consolation of being with a fine mind.” —The Houston Chronicle

Kirkus Reviews
2014-01-23
Orange Prize winner (A Spell of Winter, 2001) Dunmore, whose prolific output ranges from grim realism (The Siege, 2002) to spellbinding fantasy (The Greatcoat, 2012), offers the heartbreaking internal struggle of a young soldier adjusting to life at home after World War I. Daniel has returned to the ingrown, rigidly class-conscious Cornwall community where he grew up. Since his mother died while he was overseas, he moves to the isolated farm of Mary Pascoe, an ailing old woman. By the time the novel opens, Mary has died of natural causes after telling Daniel he can have the farm. Following her wishes, he has buried her on her land. The problem is that he hasn't reported her death to the authorities. And the longer he waits, the harder it is to tell anyone, even Felicia, the younger sister of his best friend, Frederick. Frederick and Daniel always considered themselves blood brothers despite their differences in class and intellect. Frederick grew up with Felicia in a big house full of books that Daniel devoured as a child even after dropping out of school at 11 to support his already ailing mother. Giving up the scholarship he deserved, Daniel worked as a gardener while Frederick, a terrible student who could barely read, went off to boarding school. But their friendship persisted. When war came, Frederick became an officer. Daniel, a gifted marksman, chose not to become a specialist and found unexpected camaraderie in the company of other enlisted men. Now, despite the moments of respite, even joy, that Daniel experiences with Felicia—who has suffered her own losses—Daniel is haunted by memories of Frederick and unwarranted guilt. From the first page, Dunmore shares Daniel's inner life, building an increasing sense of dread while exposing the tragedy of great promise thwarted by forces beyond Daniel's control. Dunmore's crystalline prose is almost too good; the pain she describes is often unbearable to read, yet the emotional power resonates, and Daniel is impossible to forget.
The Barnes & Noble Review

A quote from Rudyard Kipling sets the bleakly poetic tone for Helen Dunmore's latest novel of war: "And if any question why we died / Tell them, because our fathers lied." The mass slaughter of the First World War is indeed the crime at the core of Dunmore's The Lie. But a smaller transgression, far closer to home, provides the novel's earliest shock. "I dug her a decent grave and lined it with dry brown bracken and branches of the rosemary bush that grew close to her door," the narrator reports. "The smell of her was bad when I lifted her, like a bird you find crawling with lice and maggots after it has gone away to die in the foot of a hedge.... I told no one about Mary Pascoe's death."

Much later, in a final scene charged with mythic significance, Daniel Branwell will be punished not only for this illicit act ("I can see all their faces within a couple of seconds, as bright as if the flare had lit them. I am trapped. They've got me") but also, perhaps, for the larger offense of returning from war. He is, after all, the embodiment of a horror that others cannot imagine and that he cannot forget. "A memory like mine is more a curse than a blessing," Daniel admits. "It cuts into the past, as sharp as a knife, and serves it up glistening."

Helen Dunmore's fiction slices just as keenly through history. In The Siege and The Betrayal, for example, she memorably depicts wartime and postwar Russia, while in novels such as The Greatcoat and now The Lie she conjures up the lives of Britain's walking wounded. "I can smell the mud," Daniel Branwell says, "You never forget the reek of it. Thick, almost oily, full of shit and rotten flesh, cordite and chloride of lime." In 1920, Daniel has returned from the French battlefield to Cornwall, where he grew up poor, the son of a servant. Living rough at first on neighbor Mary Pascoe's land and later in her cottage, he is haunted by the war — rendered in vivid flashbacks — and by visions of a dead comrade. Frederick Dennis, the son of the family that employed Daniel's mother, was a childhood friend, and more. Inseparable as boys, the two men face death together in scenes that, to Dunmore's credit, never soar but rather churn in blood and filth.

Yet The Lie, for all its horrors, is a quiet novel vibrating with suspense and unease. Here a simple act is never simple. An unexpected visit by the local doctor, for example, raises the tension to breaking point. "I reach behind me, get hold of the door handle, and pull it to as I step out," Daniel reports, "...Sweat trickles inside my armpits and my heart is banging. I stand sideways so that he had to face into the sun and squint." As the outside world encroaches on Daniel's fragile solitude, threatening to expose his guilty secret, his grip on the ghost-filled present slips even further. "There's almost nothing I want to see," he declares towards the end, "except these fields. Even then, it's not a warm feeling. I'm like the boy in the story, who had a splinter of ice in his heart."

Anna Mundow, a longtime contributor to The Irish Times and The Boston Globe, has written for The Guardian, The Washington Post, and The New York Times, among other publications.

Reviewer: Anna Mundow

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802192547
  • Publisher: Grove/Atlantic, Inc.
  • Publication date: 4/1/2014
  • Sold by: Barnes & Noble
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 304
  • Sales rank: 77,428
  • File size: 891 KB

Meet the Author

Helen Dunmore is the author of eleven books, including The Greatcoat, The Betrayal, a New York Times Editors’ Choice; The Siege, a best seller and finalist for the Whitbread Novel of the Year Award; and A Spell of Winter, winner of the Orange Prize.

With acting credits that span stage and screen, Gildart Jackson is most often recognized for his role as Gideon on Charmed.Theater roles include Trigorin in The Seagull, Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, and Adrian in Private Eyes at the Old Globe.

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Read an Excerpt


Chapter 1

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 chloride of lime. He has got himself coated all over with it. He’s camouflaged. He might be anything, but I know who he is.

I light my candle, and get out of bed, because I know I won’t sleep again. The wind bangs, and behind it I hear the sea booming at the base of the cliffs. It’s night, but I can still work. I light my lantern and get out needle and thread from the sewing-box Mary Pascoe left to me. My trousers want patching. They are good, heavy corduroy, worn thin at the knees. I may not be nimble at sewing, but I can get the job done. They want leather patches but I haven’t got leather, so I use cloth from inside the pockets. I sew the patches all around, as firm and as neat as may be. I look at my work and then I go round again until I am sure that the patches will hold.

When I look up out of the dazzle of stitches, he’s gone. At the foot of my bed there’s nothing but the heavy pine box with Mary Pascoe’s initials burned into it. The box was black with smoke, but I’ve scoured it.

I think about how he comes. Does he displace the box? Is he in it, or is it in him? I shouldn’t think of it. It makes my mind dazzle, like my eyes.

Tomorrow I’ll plant main-crop potatoes. I’ve prepared the ground. In October, soon after I came here, I dug the earth deeply and then covered it with rotted seaweed from the pile that Mary Pascoe carried up from the shore, when she was still able. She said that seaweed made the potatoes grow clean of disease. My seed potatoes lie ready in their trays, sprouting. The sprouts are strong.

Frederick. I can say his name aloud now, without danger. He won’t come again tonight. I have thought that if he ever came by day, I’d take him to the horse-trough in the next field, and wash him until white flesh appeared. Or he could stand by the stream while I poured water over him, bucket after bucket. It would be like taking new potatoes out of the soil. But I know that he’d be back again the next night, with the mud still on him. It never dries or forms a crust. It is always wet and shining, like the eyes of a rat in the back of a dugout. He’s been out there in the wind and rain, rain sluicing over him, turning the land to mud that can drown you.

A man stuck in the mud can’t free himself. He needs two men to help him. You lay a piece of wood down on either side of him. You work him out, one boot at a time. It’s a slow job. Often there isn’t time and you have to leave him. Usually it’s not that the mud is so deep. It doesn’t come above his knees but he can’t free himself, and if he loses his balance and tips forward, he will drown. You hear the cries of men caught like that. But that was later. Frederick died before the worst of the mud.

I have a calendar on my wall and I mark off the days. I keep records of how many rows I’ve planted: early potatoes, turnips, carrots, beetroot, spring cabbages and all the rest. This mild spring has made the earth soft and ready. I’ve planted gooseberry bushes, because they’ll stand the wind. Mary Pascoe made hedging around her vegetable patch. She didn’t look after her cottage: she stuffed her windows with rags and let birds nest in the chimney, but she always knew how to make her bit of land feed her. She left me the cottage and the land around it, which maybe never belonged to her at all, but which she’d made her own. Why shouldn’t she have her bit of land? my mother used to say, When there’s others that own half the county. Mary Pascoe left me her goat and her chickens. She used to keep a pig, she said, but I don’t remember that.

I knew her more than the other children did, because of my mother’s friendship for her. I’d see her striding into town, with a basket of eggs on a strap. Sometimes, Frederick and I met her on the shore, picking mussels, when we were walking out to Senara or beyond. Me and Frederick, side by side, swinging out. We had bread and cheese in our pockets, and he might have brought chocolate, or a handful of plums. He shared between us so easily that you couldn’t tell what was his and what was mine. I never met anyone else who had that gift, until I was in the army. We had poetry books, or rather, Frederick brought them from his father’s library, and I read them. Frederick was going to be a lawyer. He’d stayed on at school, gone upcountry to Truro for his education, and then farther still to boarding school.

I left school when I was eleven, a year before I ought to have done, but in the circumstances a blind eye was turned. My mother needed my wages. She had no other family to provide for her. For years, when I was a child, she went out to clean in the big houses: Lezard House, four or five of the houses along The Row, Carrick House in the summer season, when the family that owned it were down from London. When I was ten she had rheumatic fever, and after that she hadn’t the strength for cleaning. She was soon out of breath walking uphill, no matter how slowly she went. Sometimes she had to lean on me. I hated it. I’d like to think I gave her my arm willingly, but the truth is that her weakness frightened me, and made me ashamed of us, the two of us, when I wanted to be proud. Bolts of shame would go through me as we struggled up the hill, like flies in milk.

I remember how I knelt on the bare boards of the bedroom, on the night my mother was so ill that she didn’t know I was in the room. I’d never known her not to come to me at the lightest sound, if I woke from a bad dream. But now she didn’t know me. Her eyes went beyond me. She was talking all the time, in a low quick mutter, but not to me. I heard my father’s name and my grandmother’s. She cried out for them once, her voice rusty and tearing, and she tried to heave herself off the pillow, but Mrs Jelbert held her. I sank down to the floor, and pressed my face into the quilt. All the prayers I’d ever been taught jumbled in my mouth.

You go on downstairs, boy,’ said Mrs Jelbert, but I couldn’t. ‘Don’t you fear my chiel. We’ll slock ‘er round.’ I was beyond believing her. A black wind of terror blew through me and I prayed for my mother until sweat trickled down my back. No-one answered me, nothing spoke.

Mrs Jelbert sent a boy for Dr Sanders. He came that night, and stayed until morning. He refused to let her die, even though it was clear that she had left us in her mind. She was with those other ones, those ghosts I’d barely known but who called her more strongly than my own voice could call her. But Dr Sanders wouldn’t let her stay with them. He bent over her, hauling her back, hurting her I thought from the way she cried out.

I’m not sure that my mother ever came back again, truly, but she was good at pretending. She got better. All through, Dr Sanders treated her for nothing, and afterwards he bestirred himself to find work for me, and settled it with school that I was to leave early. I was taken on as gardener’s boy at Mulla House, two miles’ walk from the town.

'You’re the man of the house now, Daniel,’ Dr Sanders said to me.
The doctor called me Daniel in deference to my mother’s wish, although most people called me Dan. She always said, ‘Daniel is his christened name.’ It may seem strange that a doctor whose house my mother cleaned should show her this respect, but it was a fact. My mother was always someone you wanted to please. She was dark-eyed and dark-haired and her face was made so that you had to turn and look at it again, to see what it was that had struck you so. Even I felt it, and I was her son. It was anguish to me when other people looked at her. One of the artists who came to the town wanted to paint her, but she wouldn’t even answer him. I can see her now, drawing her shawl around her face, turning away. She was a widow. What she had left was her good name. The artist wouldn’t take no for an answer, and annoyed her more by saying that she had ‘the most spiritual regard he had ever seen, outside Italy’. Spiritual! She was hungry. We were both hungry, in the years after my father died.

I was three years old when he was killed. He was leading Brittan’s cart on a steep downhill, with a brake on the wheel. The brake slipped and gave way, the cart came down on the horse which stumbled and plunged so that my father was flung sideways against a wall. Even then it wouldn’t have been serious, but a protrusion of granite caught his temple. He was twenty-two, barely a year older than I am now. My mother was twenty. There was no insurance.

Soon it will be light. Nothing visits me in the daylight. There’s only the wind soughing, the wrinkling of the sea even on the quietest days. I dig, and mend the chicken-wire. The cottage and the land are mine now. Mary Pascoe’s nanny goat, her ten chickens, the midden, the little stream that barely grows wider than a child could step over, the clean, difficult land, full of stones. She grew too old to tend them. Her eyes were milky and had lost the wildness that scared us when we were children, but she still knew me when I came along the path with my pack. She said, ‘Is that you, Daniel Branwell?’ and I said yes. Then she said, ‘Come in, my chiel.’

That was the first time I ever heard of anyone going inside Mary Pascoe’s cottage. It was full of smoke, and the walls were black with it. The house and everything in it was kippered. I coughed until my eyes watered, but she seemed untroubled. There were other smells, of age and sickness and the two cats that she used to keep, which twined around her legs and gave her the reputation of a witch. I’d always known that she was no such thing. The cats are dead now. My mother used to visit her, taking a bunch of yellow roses from our yard, the flowers no bigger than buttons but sweet-smelling. They talked on the threshold, never inside the house. I was jealous of those visits.

Mary Pascoe gave me a cup of sage tea. She knew that I’d been in France but she asked nothing about it. ‘Where are you living now, Daniel?’ she asked me. She also knew that our cottage had gone back to the landlord, because there was no-one to pay the rent.
‘Here and there,’ I said. I asked her if I might make a shelter from corrugated iron and canvas, on the edge of her land. She nodded. She told me where the spring was, and that I should dig myself a latrine. She had no doubt I’d know how to do it, having been in the army. Neither had she any hesitation in mentioning such things.
‘Come in when you want a warm,’ she said. She’d made the sage tea in her black kettle, and even that tasted of smoke. She moved surely, feeling for things. I wondered how much sight she had left.
‘I went to see your mother before she died,’ she said. I started as if electricity had gone through me. By the time I’d come home, my mother was already in the grave we’d visited together every Sunday throughout my childhood: my father’s grave. The wind used to pucker up the grass, and the sun shone on her hair as she knelt to tidy and tend. Below us, the sea glittered. I never remember it raining: perhaps she only took me there on fine days. She would talk about him sometimes. That’s how I learned most of what I know about my father.

When I came back, the grave was narrower than I remembered it. I couldn’t see how there would be space for me there, as well as them. I wanted to know what my mother had said and how she’d looked before she died, but no-one would tell me. The doctor said she died peacefully. I didn’t believe a word of it.
‘I found some buds on that rose of hers, and put them in her hand,’ said Mary Pascoe.
She said nothing more on the subject, then or ever. She stirred the sage tea and said that it could do with sweetening. Even with her milky eyes she still seemed more like a bird than a woman. We used to call her a buzzard when her cloak flapped in the wind. Now she was hunched and silent. I was glad that the humanness in her seemed to have been parched away, so that she was light enough to fly.

That was five months ago. She never ventured as far as my shelter. I dug myself a latrine pit, and boiled water from the stream. I knew it was pure enough, but I had army habits now. I dug a trench around the back of my shelter, to carry away the winter rains. I had money. My mother had saved as much as she could from the pay I sent her. She put it away in the tobacco tin that belonged to my father. If she hadn’t saved it, she would have been warmer and better fed, but the doctor said it would have made no difference. The valves of her heart were damaged by the rheumatic fever she had when I was a boy, and it was her heart that killed her.

I never went into town. I would walk to Tremellan, or Senara. On market days I walked as far as Simonstown, to be there when prices dropped at the end of the day. I fed Mary Pascoe’s hens for her and soon I was taking care of them entirely. She said I should have the eggs, because she couldn’t stomach them now. She still drank the goat’s milk, but there was plenty of that for both of us. I remember when she used to make goat’s cheeses, wrap them in nettles and sell them, but such things were beyond her now. All the time, I was thinking about how the land could be used. She had been famous for her vegetables once. The sweetest and earliest potatoes came from Mary Pascoe’s patch. She grew white lilies and sold them in the church square. But now, the hill was taking her land back to itself. Much of her hedging had disappeared. The fencing around the chicken run was in poor condition. Bracken, furze and briars were swallowing her land, and stones were breeding in it like rabbits. I began to clear it. Of course I knew that I would be observed. This is my country. I know how many eyes it has.

On the afternoon of January the fourteenth I heard her calling to me, her voice high and wild. She was like a curlew, I thought, because I was still trying to put a name to the kind of bird she was. I ducked my head and went into the black cottage.

She lay in her nest of rags. She looked up at me, but her eyes were now skeined over with milk, and completely sightless. She wanted water, so I fetched her a cup and held it while she drank. She was hot. I took her wrist and felt her pulse, which was rapid but light as a thread. I’d seen the doctor do this with my mother.
‘Shall I fetch the doctor?’ I asked, but she moved her head from side to side: no. I saw that she was gathering her strength to speak. I gave her more water and told her I’d mended the fence of the chicken run. I was glad, really, that she didn’t want the doctor. He would come, and then more people would come after him. She was gathering herself for an immense effort. She took more water, coughed, and then said, ‘I want to lie here, not under a stone in the town. You’ll do that for me, Daniel.’

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