“the two of us were alone on the planet,
with all the vastness of the sky and the future and the past spreading out around us”
My whole life I’ve devoured books and a few years ago I started writing book reviews. Then depression got in the way of my favourite escape and I stopped reading. Where once I thought reading was breathing, I kind of stopped both. Last week I chanced upon We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. With dogs, a map and an unreliable narrator, all I could ask for in a book. I remembered how to breathe again and I want to share the lyrical delicitude that is Lockhart’s writing.
We Were Liars is a tale of the beautiful Sinclair family who holiday on a private island where everything is happiness and perfection, on the surface. Cadence is the oldest grandchild and tells her story, beginning in her fifteenth summer when a terrible accident crippled her with overpowering migraines and amnesia of the exact events.
Cady, her two cousins Mirren and Johnny and their friend Gat are the four Liars, so named by their family. Can a Liar (or four) be trusted to tell a story? Cady can’t remember the time surrounding her accident, or is she choosing not to? She tells us straight up,
“I like a twist of meaning”
And demonstrates with her reaction to her parent’s divorce, when her father shoots her in the chest.
“The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my rib cage and down into a flower bed”
Cady’s mother is having none of her daughter’s heart spasming among the peonies and tells her not to cause a scene, the neighbours might see. When Cady feels the most, the shockingly violent manifestations of her pain or sorrow are disturbing, but clever metaphors.
Cady returns to the island in her seventeenth summer, searching with the Liars for her lost memories, always tantalizingly out of reach. The seemingly everyday idyll masquerades as something much darker, and tension ripples through the island summer. The more Cady finds in the recesses of her mind, the more questionable her recollections become. She often reminds her readers,
“Though possibly I am lying”
Among all this narrative confusion, literary allusions abound. Cady gets rid of her copy of King Lear. Is it too close to her Grandfather and his three beautiful daughters for her liking? Wuthering Heights jostles with Diana Wynne Jones. When Gat gives Cady a Jaclyn Moriarty book, I fell in love with him. Fairy tales of a King and his three beautiful daughters weave between Cady’s narrative, adding to the intrigue. And the dogs are important, dogs are always important.
Did I say there’s a map and a family tree! beautifully rendered by Abigail Daker. I started reading We Were Liars as an ebook sample, but when I came upon my favourite kind of book decoration, I had to buy the paperback to allow sufficient picture perusal. And yes, I kept flipping back and forth to the map and family tree, perhaps to remind me of names and places, perhaps because I love these pages.
The cover design by Astred Hicks is as enchanting as what’s inside. The ink splotched letters of the title bleed across the cover, replicating the words Cady and Gat write on their hands, the Sharpie blurring when they swim in the ocean. I love the font telling me to “Read It,” a good font must be obeyed. The image of three swimmers confused me somewhat, but it was chosen for a reason, I can’t tell you why.
After reading The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks I fell in love with Lockhart’s writing the antidote to every teen romance, an unromance. The girl doesn’t necessarily snag the boy of her dreams, but she has a wild time trying and comes out the other side finding what she needs within herself. We Were Liars continues this theme. Cady falls in love, but how can he love her back when he already has a girlfriend back home? Finding out what part he played in the accident and why she didn’t see him until their seventeenth summer, is as much a surprise for Cady as for us, reading her story.
I was told to lie, so can you believe anything I say? You’ll have to read We Were Liars and find out for yourself. Then have a look at the We Were Liars tumbler. Pictures everywhere! It must be nice to have your fans send you pretty things.
The photos are mine and have a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license.