The Lie – Helen Dunmore + Giveaway

Giveaway now closed.

Daniel Bramwell, 21, has returned from the First World War to the small village on the Cornish coastline in which he grew up. Rather than leaving death behind him, he’s spending every day facing it: his mum died while he was at war; Mary Pascoe, the woman whose land he’s been living on dies shortly after his return, and he’s haunted by the death of his best friend, Frederick:

He comes to me, clagged in mud from head to foot. A mud statue, but a breathing one. The breath whistles in and out of him. He stands at my bed-end. Even when the wind is banging over the roof that I’ve bodged with corrugated iron, it’s very quiet. He doesn’t speak. Sometimes I wish that he would break the silence, but then I’m afraid of what he might say. I can smell the mud. You never forget the reek of it. Thick, almost oily, full of shit and rotten flesh, cordite and chlorine of lime. He has got himself coated all over with it. He’s camouflaged. He might be anything but I know who he is.

Daniel and Frederick Dennis grew up together. Daniel’s mother cleaned Albert House, the Dennis family home, and when Mrs Dennis died, Daniel’s mother looked after the children, Frederick and Felicia. Daniel was treated practically as family, eating tea with them and staying overnight if one of them was sick. As they grew up, the differences between the two families became more apparent – Frederick went to boarding school while Daniel went to work. Daniel’s education came largely from the books he borrowed from Albert House, a library Mr Dennis had bought for show.

Daniel uses his book learning throughout the novel to express his feelings. He often quotes poetry to Frederick at Frederick’s request but after Frederick’s death, he seems to use it to refer to him. Early in the novel, Daniel talks about ‘The Rime of the Ancient Mariner’:

He killed an albatross. It seems petty to me. But the albatross I suppose was not only an albatross. It was the thing without which you can continue to live, but no longer be human.

Oh! Dream of joy! is this indeed
The light-house top I see?
Is this the hill? is this the kirk
Is this mine own countree?

But how can it be? If you kill the albatross, you can never come back to your own country. You’ll be happier if you stop hoping for it.

The thing without which Daniel continues to live is Frederick. To try and return to his own country, he has literally returned to the land. He tells us that he was living on the edge of Mary Pascoe’s land until her death when he’s moved into the house and begun growing fruit and vegetables and looking after the chickens and the goat.

But this set up is going to cost Daniel dearly. Mary Pascoe knew she was dying and her last wish was ‘to die under her own hedge’. Initially, Daniel just doesn’t tell anyone she’s died – she seems to lack friends and no one comes to the house – but then it becomes too late to tell anyone and when Felicia comes calling he lies:

‘Mary’s ill,’ I say quickly. ‘She’s sleeping.’

It’s inevitable that Daniel’s lie will be discovered and the move towards that moment drives the narrative on.

The Lie is the story of a young soldier trying to make sense of the horror he’s lived through and the guilt he feels over the death of his ‘blood brother’.  It’s often harrowing and heart breaking. Dunmore’s storytelling is so vivid that when I picked up the novel to re-read it for review, having first read it last summer, I found I was still holding whole scenes in my head. This is a wonderful novel by one of Britain’s greatest writers.


And I have a fantastic treat for one of you. Thanks to Hutchinson, I have a signed proof of The Lie to give away. As this is such a great prize, there’s a little task to do to win it. I want to know what’s the best lie you’ve ever told. Leave your answer in the comment section by 5pm GMT on Sunday 19th January. I am accepting worldwide entries.

To get you started, this is mine: Two summers ago we decided to take my stepson to Legoland. Knowing how excited this would make him, we only told him we were going to stay with my best friend and her husband and son for a few days. The day before we were due to go to Legoland, we told him we were planning to go on a really long walk the following day and he could either come with us or stay with my best friend and her family. He chose to come with us. He was very quiet in the car – no questions about whether we were there yet – and as we turned into Legoland, my husband said ‘Look.’ ‘Legoland,’ my stepson said, ‘Can we go there?’ He was beside himself when my husband replied, ‘We are there.’ It was my best lie because it made a little boy very happy.

Over to you…

Edit: Wow! Those are some incredible lies. When I set the question, I thought it would be easy to choose a winner but I’m struggling and I also need to disclose that Cath is a friend of mine, so it wouldn’t be fair for me to choose. I’ve decided, therefore, to hand it over to the random number generator. All entrants have been allocated a number on order of entry (I’m allowing theagegap’s entry to stand as I was late to close this). And the generator says:

Screen Shot 2014-01-19 at 20.48.36


Congratulations, Lisa, there’s an email on its way to you. Thanks to everyone else for entering.

Thanks to Hutchinson for the review copy.

15 thoughts on “The Lie – Helen Dunmore + Giveaway

  1. Surprises make the best lies, yes.
    My best lie was when I flew interstate in response to an SOS and told my elderly father that it would be no problem to stay with him until my mother came home from hospital. It was, to put it mildly, a whopper. My lie created chaos at work, at home, my finances etc but hey, family always comes first and he would have had to go into respite care if I had not stayed. I will never forget the relief on his dear old face when I said I would stay for the duration; like many old people he lives in dread of Being Put in a Home and fears that once into respite care, he would never be allowed to come home. But he would never have accepted my help if he’d had any idea what it really involved.


  2. Years ago, when my daughter was almost five and preparing to start school, I told her that children were expected to be able to tie their own shoes when they started school. I didn’t mean it as a lie, it was supposed to be an inducement. Also, it was true about me when I started school. However, I started in the first grade, not kindergarten, and I was six years old.
    She worked very hard to learn this task and was successful. On the first day of school she found out that most of the kids couldn’t tie their shoes and no one seemed bothered by it. When she got home from school she looked at me accusingly and said, “You lied to me.” I told her I was wrong but didn’t intentionally lie. She never forgot it.

    Skip forward to high school and college application time. The dreaded Essay! The advisers said “write about something taught you something.” She wrote about the shoe-tying episode being the first time she was conscious of the fact that your parents weren’t always right and you couldn’t accept their word without question. She was accepted by the college of her choice.

    Thirty years later she still brings it up now and then. My answer is “That lie got you into college.”

    But I still claim it wasn’t a lie, she still claims it was. Was it?


  3. I don’t really tell proper lies I avoid them if I can. So I think the best one I ever told would be when I was ill recovery from a v bad chest infection and suffering terrible insomnia last year, I knew my friend was going through some personal stuff that was stressful etc. So I pretended (via email/Twitter/Facebook/text that everything was as normal when I was really off work feeling really ill after a reaction to some medication on top of everything else, so she would n’t worry and offer to rush over and bring me things.


  4. The best real lie was returning to work after three miscarriages and a neonatal death proclaiming we would stop trying now so I could concentrate on work… I was fifteen weeks pregnant with Erica!


  5. I told my Mum I didn’t mind when my plain-speaking Grandma confided in me that she preferred her Grandsons to Granddaughters. I was eight and did mind quite a lot, but it taught me an early lesson that telling the truth can sometimes be the unkindest choice of all.


    • Claire, your comment reminded me of a program I heard on Radio National, featuring women who had wanted to have children of a different gender to what they had borne. I remember thinking at the time how cruel that was, to tell the world that you didn’t want the child you had, and how devastated the children hearing it would be. Those women (and the radio producers) thought that what they wanted and their disappointment about not getting it, was more important than the children’s feelings. Perhaps the biggest lie some of us tell is one we never speak out loud because we don’t want to hurt others.


  6. When I was very young – say three or four years of age – I started to make up tall tales and share them with my teachers and classmates. A great deal of the time these lies were believed, but one time it came back to bite me.
    One day we had a special assembly at school to learn about guide dogs and what is might be like to not see or not hear. After the talk I started to tell people that I had been given a puppy by my parents but it had to go and be trained as a guide dog for my grandmother who had become blind. This was a big, big lie: I’ve never had a dog and both of my grandmother’s could see just fine. I thought that nothing would come of this but my maternal grandmother came to collect me from school one afternoon and at the gate, my nosey teacher said ‘Are you the blind grandmother?’. I was mortified and my nana just looked at me in confusion, which swiftly turned to rage. She likes to tell that story now that I am old enough to be embarrassed by it all over again.


  7. Pingback: British Writing is not all Grey: Fiction Uncovered | The Writes of Woman

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