A review of ‘The Lie Tree’ by Frances Hardinge

9781447264101The Lie Tree_12

Cover design by James Fraser

Pan MacMillan £6.99

Winner of the Costa Book Award 2015. See Frances Hardinge’s acceptance speech here!

Synopsis from the Pan MacMillan website:

The Lie Tree is a wonderfully evocative and atmospheric novel by Frances Hardinge, award-winning author of Cuckoo Song and Fly By Night.

Faith’s father has been found dead under mysterious circumstances, and as she is searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. The tree only grows healthy and bears fruit if you whisper a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, will deliver a hidden truth to the person who consumes it. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.

The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father’s murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter . . .

So what did I think?

A gothic whodunnit, written with wit and superlative story telling.

There’s so much I want to say about this book, that it’s difficult to know where to start. The first chapter tempts you with deliciously moreish prose, before delighting you with a neverending banquet of colourful characters and exciting events. Every sentence is beautifully crafted and paints a clear picture of the unfolding scene. I knew from the very first page that I would love this book!

Although there are dark elements to this book: murder, ghosts and anger, there are also moments of wit and acute sensitivity. What interests me above all (as an aspiring writer) is Hardinge’s skilful characterisation, especially with regard to Faith. Every description and piece of action reveals her true character and inner thoughts, so that we quickly understand and empathise with her.

One of the most fascinating aspects of the novel for me is Faith’s relationship with her mother, Myrtle: a pretty, coquettish and ruthlessly flirtatious creature. Whereas Faith had once viewed her as “a being from another world, warm, merry, beautiful and untouchable, a sun-nymph with a keen sense of fashion“; in her adolescence her relationship with her mother has soured: “Faith had started to feel like a rag doll, snatched up and cast down according the whims of an impatient child with an uncertain temper.” The constant tension between the two keeps you guessing, and rooting for a spark of optimism and spiritual connection.

You think you have the denouement of the murder mystery sussed, then you realise you’ve ended up down a blind alley, such is Hardinge’s skill at weaving all the characters and events together. The final chapters literally had my heart thumping. I had no idea what was going to happen next. The final resolution was beautiful and satisfying without being predictable.

The themes of the story are numerous: science versus religion, secrets versus enlightenment, and appearance versus reality, for example. But what I’m most envious of overall is how Hardinge takes a Victorian setting and gives such precedence to a modern theme (the role of women in society), and in a way that fits the character’s pysche, without being at all preachy.

It’s a gripping tale, a hugely entertaining read and THE book to study if you want to write for Young Adults.

Happy reading!




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