Helen Dunmore is a new-to-me author, who came to my attention because of a recommendation for her novel Exposure by Fiction Fan. I couldn’t find a copy of Exposure at my library, but happily settled on The Lie by Helen Dunmore.
The Lie is the story of Daniel Branwell, a young man who has recently returned to his village in Cornwall after serving in France during World War 1. While Daniel was away at the war his mother died, leaving him homeless, so on his return, he began living rough on a corner of a small property owned by an elderly dying woman, Mary Pascoe. Daniel cared for Mary until she died, then buried her on a corner of her property in accordance with her wishes, although without notifying the authorities of Mary’s death. Daniel went on to clean up Mary’s cottage and move in, then continued to eke out a living on her land.
Daniel suffers terribly from post traumatic syndrome caused during the War and is often visited by the dead, mostly his dearest friend, Frederick. Daniel and Frederick grew up together, and remained friends despite the differences in their mental abilities, social standing and wealth. Frederick’s and Daniel’s mother’s deaths left Daniel completely alone in the world, although as the story continues Daniel reconnects with Frederick’s sister, Felicia. Felicia is mourning Frederick as intensely as Daniel. The story slips back and forth between Daniel’s time in France and the present.
Felicia and other locals begin to suspect that something is not right with Daniel living at Mary Pascoe’s house and investigate.
The writing is simple and beautiful, even as the mud and deaths and horrors of war are described. The ongoing emotional trauma is devastating but also beautifully told, as is a complicated love story at the centre of the book. The sad ending felt inevitable.
The Lie is a gruelling story told in a poetic way. I’m looking forward even more to eventually reading Exposure by Helen Dunmore, which I believe is the story of the adults in The Railway Children.