It's been a fortnight since they found her body and for the most part I am glad she's gone. But I also can't believe she's dead, and I should do because I did it.This alone was enough to make me want to read The Book of Lies - fifteen year old Catherine has killed her best friend, and the novel would be about figuring out what drove her to do such a thing. This is what the book is about, but it is so much more - I had underestimated how complex the story would be.
From the very first page, the reader knows that Catherine, fat and unpopular, has murdered her friend Nicolette, beautiful and popular. The scene of the crime is the cliffs of the island of Guernsey - a dangerous and perilous drop. Catherine isn't suspected of having killed Nic, and sets out her story of why it was that she had to kill her. She recalls how she and Nic became friends in the first place, and shows how very easily addicted she became towards the girl. But the friendship gradually, falls apart into bitter bullying. The story of two high school girls, though, is only part of the novel.
Between chapters about Catherine's life are the transcripts of secrets as told by her uncle Charlie Rozier. In the 1940s, Charlie details life in Guernsey at the time of the Nazi occupation. He explains what the island was like at that time, how people co-operated, and how people resisted. As a teenager at the time, Charlie found himself caught in difficult circumstances, wanting to out the Nazis and their sympathisers, while also being coerced into helping others escape.
The two stories intertwine, not just told along a parallel, but also reflected in each other. Similarities and differences are clear to see between the two, and Catherine becomes fixated in these and the other files that she finds in her dead father's study. Not only do the two stories connect in terms of some of the content and themes, but there are motifs and phrases of language that appear subtley in both. For example, lying on the grass outside a party after pushing away unwanted attention, Catherine calms herself by counting her breathing. In another chapter of Charlie's transcript, he also mentions using his breathing to stay calm.
The Book of Lies thoughtfully considers history, and how history can repeat itself, particularly between generations of the same family. The nature vs nurture argument appears throughout the novel, sometimes in a subdued way, and other times made more explicit in Catherine's narration. Most compelling for me, though, was reading Catherine's turmoil and tracing her gradual downward spiral. She is aware of how frustrated she is with life, and of the claustrophobia of living on such a small island. But she is an unreliable narrator, as it becomes clear, particularly towards the end of the novel, that she is quite unaware of her own mental breakdown and of the unhealthy ways in which she thinks and acts. Her relationships with male characters, for example, are especially interesting to read, particularly with her history teacher. With these relationships, Catherine has disillusions, or is naively unaware, of how an innocent relationship can be turned into something more sinister, and rather easily too.
In all, The Book of Lies had me thoroughly gripped, particularly by Catherine. As a reader, there was a real pull in seeing how Catherine made and broke relationships with those around her - her mother, her friends, her history teacher - and to have finally isolated herself, almost completely. Horlock has created some dark, brooding, and sinister, with characters and a story to match the bleak landscape of Guernsey.
Canongate Books, 2011;