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Thursday 3 July 2014

Shelf Esteem: We Were Liars by E Lockhart

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
Shelf Esteem: 4/5

I am very envious of authors like J.K. or E. Nesbit whose names sound intriguing with initials. K. Brown may actually be the most boringly-initialled name in history.

E.Lockhart is the pseudonym for Emily Jenkins, who has achieved enormous success for picture books (as Jenkins) and YA  (Lockhart). We Were Liars, her latest, is a Whisper Book. This is where you only hear a lot about the book once you've actually read it, at which point hundreds of people come out of the shadows, hollow-eyed, and whispering "Oh my God wasn't it great? It was so great."

It would be significantly more useful if Whisper Books did this in reverse, and hundreds of people howled at you, or made an easy list, but honestly: stop reading now and just go off and get We Were Liars. When Sian said she was hooked on it, I went off and bought it, but it wasn't until I'd finished it (this is an all-in-one-go gulp down read) and was a fully paid-up member of the hollow-eyed club that I understood just how hooked she was.

(Is this enough preamble for you to just go off and buy it without me telling you anything? What do you mean, you want "some idea of what this book is actually about"? How prosaic of you.)

Cadence Sinclair Eastman, is 18, and since her father moved out, lives alone with her mother. In the summer, she gets to join her mother's family on their island, and become one of an institution, cossetted by sheer numbers, and the cosy cushion of privilege. The Sinclairs are a dynasty on a par with the Kennedys (at least, according to the Sinclairs).

Her mother and two aunts each has their own house on the island, built by Grandpa Sinclair, who gives and takes at the same time. He has his daughters in a dance of inheritance, which the children pick up on, and which Cadence satirises bitterly as fairy tales. While the grown-ups manage their power plays, the three eldest cousins, Cadence, Johnny and Mirren, enjoy the exhilaration of being a tight knit group, The Liars, with their cousin by marriage, Gat.

This summer, "summer 18", is Cadence first on the island since a half-remembered accident in "summer 15" left her with memory loss and migraines. Her aunts are behaving weirdly. Everyone is drinking too much. All she has is her Liars, and her on-off relationship with Gat which she tries to fix, while also trying to get to the bottom of what the accident was.

Cadence speaks in divisively-brittle statements laced with irony, synaesthetic descriptions ("Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity and rain") and a disconnect that goes far beyond the simple fact of her being a teenager. Some might find her hyperbole a bit much - her father leaving is described as an actual incident of shooting her through the heart - but just go with it. This memory-gap story puts a family thriller in an irresistibly claustrophobic setting of hostile wealth and privilege. Nobody's getting off this island until it's solved.

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