Review of The Lie by Helen Dunmore

It’s incredible to think that July 28, 2014, will mark the centenary of the commencement of World War One. Although no longer part of the living memory of anyone save a tiny handful of people, who were children at the time, the wastefulness and horror of the trench warfare that characterised that vicious four year campaign will live long in our collective memory.

By Armistice Day, November 11, 1918, more than nine million combatants had been killed, with a further twenty million or so badly wounded. The conflict changed the direction of world history, and led to significant political upheaval, prompting revolutionary uprisings in many of the nations that took part. Understandably, it had a profound and lasting effect on the young men directly involved in combat.

The physical and psychological destruction wrought by the Great War has been commemorated by many authors, including Pat Barker, with her brilliant Regeneration Trilogy; Sebastian Faulks with his poignant novel, Birdsong; and Michael Morpurgo with his hugely successful children’s novel, War Horse. Now, Helen Dunmore has added to the canon of WWI literature by writing movingly about the worst aspects of trench warfare and its aftermath in her new novel, The Lie.

Dunmore has tackled this period before: Zennor in Darkness, her finely researched, McKitterick Prize winning novel, published in 1993, describes the events surrounding a time when the writer D. H. Lawrence and his German-born wife Frieda lived in Zennor in Cornwall during the war, and came under suspicion as German spies. A hugely respected and highly entertaining writer, her acclaimed catalogue of finely crafted prose and poetry has been praised universally and rewarded many times; her third novel, A Spell of Winter, won the inaugural Orange Prize for Fiction in 1996, and in 2010 her poem The Malarkey won the National Poetry Competition.

In The Lie, an enthralling and ultimately heart-wrenching novel, Dunmore again uses Cornwall as her backdrop and tells us the story of Daniel, a young local man who has survived the horrors of the trenches in body if not in spirit. Life has been one constant struggle for Danny, an exceptionally bright boy who was deprived of the chance of a decent future by relentless poverty. Returning from the front, he wrestles with his demons and works hard to grasp the first chance of independence and fulfillment he has ever known, but fate is conspiring against him and his future happiness hinges on the concealment of a lie told blithely in a moment of madness.

The Lie

The Lie, will be published by Hutchinson on 16 January 2014

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