The Mountains of Instead

Championing fiction as an escape from pandemics, politics and bad TV.

The Children Green and Golden (Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart)

We Were Liars
E. Lockhart
Delacorte Press/Hot Key Books 2014

Candace is a Sinclair. One, indeed, of the Sinclairs. A child of one of three daughters, themselves the children of a rich, rich man, Candace has lived a life of privilege. Never more is that privilege obvious than in the summers that she spends at Beechwood, the Sinclair family island where her grandfather rules from his house on the hill and the children play in a golden world of sun and sea and friendship and wealth. It is heaven and Candace shares it with her cousins, Johnny and Mirren and her friend, Gat. As they grow older, they grow closer, becoming the Liars, an affectionate title that they revel in. Until the summer that Candace is fifteen, a summer where she is found nearly naked and soaking wet and alone with no memory of what has happened and a head injury that leaves her with searing headaches and a transformed life. Two years later she returns to Beechwood, to Johnny, Mirren and Gat, to the three sisters and the old man on the hill and begins to piece together what happened and what it means, and why, why, why...

Candace is a fascinating character. Her family name provides her with a foundation that seems unshakable, yet with her accident it is shaken. Unable, any longer to lift her chin and get on with things, she starts to question not only what happened to her but also her life as it has always been lived. This should make her sympathetic, but she isn't always. She's spoilt, self-pitying and needy yet also devoted and loyal and desperately confused. As a character study she is rather brilliant and her need to understand what has happened to her is palpably believable. 

Johnny, Mirren and Gat are also exceptional creations. Gat, in particular, is compelling as the outsider who says what is not to be said and thinks what is not to be thought while Mirren and Johnny illustrate rather beautifully what it means to be a Sinclair in entirely different ways. Meanwhile, Candace's mother and her two sisters vie for the attention of her grandfather, a character who is both kindly yet manipulative, powerful yet aged. Every character is exceptionally written and finely nuanced and each and every one will get under your skin.

While it is easy to talk about the characters in We Were Liars, it is impossible to talk about the plot as it is one that readers should discover entirely on their own suffice to say that it is utterly immersive and moves in ways that are both sinuous and sudden. It is, quite simply, an extraordinary book and E. Lockhart's writing is utterly unique. She has the ability to create incredibly vivid scenes using just snippets of dialogue and semi-sentences - like the Neverland that Beechwood appears to be, We Were Liars is shot through with its very own astonishing splashes of colour that are evocative and wondrous. 

Lockhart also uses fairytales throughout the book, both familiar and strange, to great effect and on finishing We Were Liars it is hard not to see it as a fairytale or fable with its own strangeness, its own message and its own terrible reality.  It is, quite simply, an extraordinary book - sharp and beautiful, clever and haunting. I devoured it in one, long, breathless gulp and am still thinking about it days after I turned that final page. Buy this book, read it and then come back so that we can talk because this is a book that you will want to talk about and share and remember. Highly, highly recommended.

This review was brought to you by Splendibird, who would like to note how utterly perfect that cover is. Really. PERFECT. We Were Liars will be published in the UK on 15th May and in the US two days earlier. Thank you to Delacorte, via NetGalley, for providing us with this title to review.


Melissa said…
I like your observation that it's meant to be a fairy tale in its own right, and not a realistic portrayal about money. I think I need to read this one again; I'm not sure I got everything out of it the first time around.
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