The Lies you Told by Harriet Tyce

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Reviewed by Elaine Simpson-Long

Last year I read Blood Orange, which was Harriet Tyce’s debut novel.  One of the reasons I read it was that the cover caught my eye, which seems a shallow response, but that is why marketing departments in publishing houses earn their money.  The other reason was that I had read quite a few rave reviews so thought I would have a crack at it, even though contemporary fiction is a genre which does not have much appeal for me.

I read it and thought it was excellent.  The characters portrayed were not exactly charming people and at first I was not sure it was for me, but I persevered and after a chapter or two found it compulsive reading with an ending that had me punching the air with delight. I will say no more.

So I was looking forward to her follow up, The Lies you Told and wondered if it would be as good. Well it is. No doubt at all. And, once again, I sat and read it straight through as I could not put it down.

Sadie returns to the UK from the States when her marriage has broken down, back to live in the house where she was brought up and lived with her mother with whom she had a toxic relationship and who she had not seen since she left and married.  She has nowhere else to go and one of the stipulations given by her mother (who has died) in order to keep the house is that she sends her daughter Robin, to her old school, a school Sadie hated and which does not welcome newcomers.

The PTA at the school is run and dominated by Julia, who holds sway and influence over all the other mothers. She is snobby, pushy and fiercely determined that her daughter will shine and be the best the class.  Sadie is treated with contempt and unfriendliness  and when she leaves a fund raising coffee morning early for an appointment for a visit to chambers to restart her legal career, this is regarded as a severe dereliction of duty.

I have to mention that when my children were at school there was a similar cohort of mothers who behaved in exactly the same way as these portrayed here. Women who had professional husbands to enable them not to have to work, wearing the latest designer gear, with loud braying voices and an inbuilt sense of superiority.  They were ghastly and, to be honest, quite vicious at times, so I found this part of the story eminently believable.  Please do not think the author is exaggerating in any way. She is not.

Sadie starts work again and is involved in a case where a young schoolgirl has accused her teacher of sexual impropriety and his career hangs in the balance. It looks an open and shut case, but as every reader knows, this is highly unlikely to be true.  

In the meantime, the Ghastly Mothers have discovered that Sadie is an old girl of the school with her name on the school board and their attitude changes immediately and she finds herself admitted to the fold and is slightly overwhelmed by it all.

So far so good. Interesting story but what is going to happen next?  

What does happen is that Julia’s daughter, Daisy, takes an overdose and is rushed to hospital.   Was it an accident or was it deliberate as the pressure exerted on her by her ambitious mother became too much for her?   While she is in hospital Sadie discovers that the reason she was able to send Robin to the school was because another child had died on a school trip, freeing up a coveted space, and things start to take a sinister turn.

Now this seems a relatively straightforward story, with the two strands of the happenings at the school and the case on which Sadie is working running alongside each other, but Harriet Tyce is a master at creating a sense of underlying tension.  The reader knows something is going to happen but you have no idea when. This sense of inevitability mounts the further the reader becomes immersed in the narrative and this is what makes the book compulsive reading.

As with Blood Orange there is a twist at the end which was totally unexpected and which I did not see coming. In fact there are two in The Lies you Told and the ingenuity of these revelations took me totally by surprised and filled me with admiration.

And the final page is totally chilling…………

Another excellent and thrilling read from Harriet Tyce.

Already looking forward to the next one.

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Elaine blogs at Random Jottings.

Harriet Tyce, The Lies You Told (Wildfire, 2020). 978-1472252784, 371pp., hardback.

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