Monday 10 August 2015

The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth. The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth, Faith decided. Not fine, clean Dover teeth, but jaded, broken teeth, jutting crookedly amid the wash of the choppy grey sea. The mailboat chugged its dogged way through the waves, greasing the sky with smoke.
‘Osprey,’ said Faith through chattering teeth, and pointed.
Her six-year-old brother Howard twisted round, too slow to see the great bird, as its pale body and dark-fringed wings vanished into the mist. Faith winced as he shifted his weight on her lap. At least he had stopped demanding his nursemaid.
‘Is that where we are going?’ Howard squinted at the ghostly islands ahead.
‘Yes, How.’ Rain thudded against the thin wooden roof above their heads. The cold wind blew in from the deck, stinging Faith’s face.

Published by Macmillan in May 2015
410 pages in paperback
Cover design by James Fraser

Summary from Publisher’s Website
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 . . .

Anyone who knows me will appreciate how much I love Frances Hardinge’s work. I was so eager to read this, I have it both on NetGalley and in paperback. It’s taken a while to get round to it – I was saving it as a treat after some tricky edits.
Oh and what a treat it is! 
I do have to point out that it is different from Frances Hardinge’s other books – in some ways more ‘mainstream’, less deliciously weird in the writing. But both the ideas and the story stand out more strongly because of this pared-back prose. There are plenty of beautifully crafted moments (see the extract above) but they are sprinkled sparingly – like jet beads on a mourning costume.
Not only is there a first-rate mystery, worthy of Willkie Collins, in this Victorian set thriller, but the themes of faith and science, truth and necessity permeate the whole thing. No-one reading this will have a sentimentalised view of the position of 19th century women, that’s for certain.
‘The Lie Tree’ has aspects of the very best historical novels combined with myth and eeriness. It’s Gothic – but not as we know it. Not a cliché in sight but it has been reworked and freshened.
A word on James Fraser’s cover: the verdigris green and splattered charcoal effect is entirely right for the unsettling and dark matter inside, and showing Faith as a silhouette allows any reader to imagine the protagonist however they want. Bravo.
Finally, I would say this is a true cross-over book. It can be read by experienced younger readers – and by much older ones – with equal enjoyment. If you loved Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures, Rebecca Mascull’s The Visitors or any of the Sally Lockhart mysteries by Philip Pullman, I think this could be for you.

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