Dunmore, Helen - 'The Lie'
A truly tragic story set in Cornwall in 1920. David Branwell is a young man who served in the trenches in France during the Great War and whilst physically he is still able-bodied, the horrors he faced in that terrible conflict still haunt him and occupy his daily thoughts. Before he joined up and was sent to France he had never even left his county, never mind travelled to London or abroad. When he lived in Cornwall, before the war, he spent a lot of his childhood with his very close friend Frederick, who unfortunately was killed whilst serving also in the trenches. Daniel lost his father when he was very small and his mother died whilst he was away in France.
Since his return from the War and very keen to stay in the area of his childhood Daniel has been helping Mary Pascoe a sick, elderly woman look after her small holding. She has been giving him food and lets him stay in a small lean-to, in payment. As the old lady was dying, Daniel agrees against his better wishes to carry out her dying request and as a consequence he soon finds that he has to lie to all those that he comes in contact with on a daily basis.
Daniel cleans and tidies the house of Mary Pascoe and stays in it and takes care of the hens and a goat that Mary owned. He keeps himself occupied during the day with the farm animals and also digging and planting vegetables on the small holding but when he goes to sleep he is haunted with terrible nightmares of his experiences in the trenches and he is also interrupted by frequent visits from the ghost of Frederick, his childhood friend. Frederick had rich parents who owned the large house in which Daniel's mother sometimes worked as a cleaner and although Daniel had a photographic, retentive memory and remembered lots of poetry and anything that he saw in books that he borrowed from Frederick's father's library he had to leave school at the age of eleven to work at the big house as an under-gardener because his mother was so impoverished.
Staying in Mary Pascoe's house, one day Daniel comes into contact with Felicia, the sister of the late Frederick who has a young child but who lost her husband in the conflict. She lives alone in the big house and Daniel tries to help her in practical tasks that she neither has the strength nor the expertise to carry out such as cleaning a boiler. Intertwined with all this story of the Daniel of the present, 1920, is the story of his experiences training for the army and journeying to London and going over to France and then in the trenches themselves. The general horror of it all and in particular the descriptions of the rats, lice, general filth and decay in the muddy damp daily life of the trenches is pretty horrible. Also the minute details such as men in damp conditions may not bother changing their damp socks and end up with terrible foot conditions and as a consequence senior officers encouraged the men to look after the feet of the man next to them which was more effective.
The author must have done a huge amount of research as I was quite taken with the tragedy of it all and it is not a book that will be forgotten very quickly and the images that the author describes of the appalling conditions of life in the trenches will stay with me for a long time. This is the first book that I've read by this author whom I understand has twelve other titles to her name. It is not by any means a fast read. The slow pensive style gradually builds up these shocking images in your brain of this ghastly, horrific conflict but you need time to take it all in. The literary style of it reminded me of "Birdsong" by Sebastian Faulks and the "Regeneration" trilogy by Pat Barker. In some ways I was rather disappointed by the conclusion of the book but I don't think I will forget some of the descriptions of it for a long time. Recommended.
Terry Halligan, England
More European crime fiction reviews can be found on the Reviews page.