Review | Wednesday 01 June 2011
To survive in occupied Guernsey during WWII, altering the truth became the pastime of many. Forty years later, Guernsey has become a tourist destination for those wanting to see the remnants of the occupation on the small island – mostly unappealing concrete buildings – and history has not quite let go of it yet, with lies and secrets still being knitted and unpicked.
In 1965, Charles Rozier dictates the story of what happened to him as a teenager during the occupation to his younger brother, Emile. In 1985, Emile’s 15-year-old daughter, Cathy, has gotten away with the murder of her ex-best friend, Nicolette, and is trying to piece together what brought her to that point. Both reflect on their troubled youth, stripping away the layers of truth, revealing and misinterpreting things as humans so often do. The unreliability of their narrative is what makes The Book of Lies so engaging: you know the real story is under there somewhere, beyond what they can see.
Cathy has a broad knowledge of the island’s history, thanks to her now deceased historian father, forever printing his own books trying to out the truth. Her willingness to share her knowledge makes her an outcast at her school – until Nicolette comes along.
Charles, full of vengeful anger, remembers the friendship with the charismatic and violent Ray Le Poidevoin that ruined his family. In their tirades against old friends, both are in turns unlikeable, pitiable and hilarious; you will feel empathy and want to occasionally not turn the page when they do something you know will end badly. The Book of Lies is fascinating, intelligent, full of character and paints the island as clear as a photograph. While you might not want to take your next holiday there after reading it, the book itself is definitely worth a visit.
Fiona Hardy is from Readings Carlton.