Canongate, £12.99 Order for £11.69 (free p&p)from the Independent Bookshop: 08430 600 030
The Book of Lies, By Mary Horlock
Island tale is full of guilty pleasures
History is often presented as immutable fact. But truth isn't transmitted through clear glass; it's refracted through interpreters, with perception depending on the beholder's lens. The difficulty of pinning down absolute truth lies behind Mary Horlock's assured debut. Set on Guernsey, the narration shifts between 15-year-old Cathy and her uncle Charlie, 20 years earlier. The two strands of the story both involve betrayal.
Cathy, whose father, Emile, an eminent local historian, has recently died, is convinced she has murdered her erstwhile best "friend", Nic. Charlie's statement relates to events on Guernsey during the German occupation of 1940-1945, when his and Emile's father died. Like Cathy, Charlie is convinced of his culpability.
Cathy's teenage voice is a joy – funny, endearing and credible, it bursts with attitude, perceives the shortcomings of her native island, coins malapropisms and wry neologisms ("Venerable Diseases"), and sneers at parochial locals. Cathy also supplies, with adolescent nonchalance, information about Guernsey's past she has uncovered from her father's work.
For all her tough talking, there are poignant moments: she realises that she never showed her love to her father. She is sculpted into a real person through complexities – her ability to lie and land someone in terrible trouble renders her fallible, while her devotion to her foul friend accentuates her vulnerability.
Charlie's account and Emile's letters provide chilling information about Guernsey's occupation: foreign workers were shipped in, overworked and starved to death. The locals didn't fare much better. With a German-islander ratio of around 1:1, it was difficult to resist, and they were reduced to eating pets.
Horlock avoids the trap of painting every German occupier as evil and every local as saintly: individuals obey or resist as much as they dare. Some might quibble at Charlie informing us at the start that he "killed his father", or the Donna Tartt-ish premise of Cathy's declaration that she killed Nic. Neither claim turns out to be the full story, but then the novel is about perceptions of truth. Horlock has created an authentic adolescent voice and, in the process, not only illuminated the history of a small island but also thrown light on the subjectivity of history, truth and memory.
Arts & Ents blogs
Owen Howells is a DJ/producer who grew up in Australia but was born in the UK. He came back to the U...
Fancy seeing a play about serial killers? How about inviting a funeral director into your home for a...
There are a good many moments in the second episode of this psychological thriller that deserve refl...
Coronation Street triumphs over EastEnders at British Soap Awards 2013
The Freemasons' Code: Dan Brown reveals the message that told him the door to the lodge is open
Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
Film review: The Hangover Part III (15)
- 1 Pope Francis: Being an atheist is alright as long as you do good
- 2 Man and woman arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to murder victim of Woolwich machete attack, named as Drummer Lee Rigby
- 3 'Sickening, deluded and unforgivable': Horrific attack brings terror to London’s streets
- 4 Archaeologists uncover nearly 5,000 cave paintings in Burgos, Mexico
- 5 Lord of the Sings: Sir Christopher Lee, 91, to release heavy metal album
BMF is the UK’s biggest and best loved outdoor fitness classes
Find out what The Independent's resident travel expert has to say about one of the most beautiful small cities in the world
Nook is donating eReaders to volunteers at high-need schools and participating in exclusive events throughout the campaign.
Get the latest on The Evening Standard's campaign to get London's children reading.
Win anything from gadgets to five-star holidays on our competitions and offers page.