Book Review: We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

‘We are all liars; sometimes we even lie to ourselves.’

we-were-liarsReading We Were Liars makes you glad you don’t belong to the Sinclair family.  Sure, everyone will recognise aspects of their own family life, but the Sinclairs are more than a little emotionally twisted and ridiculously rich.

Cadence and her cousins spend their summers on the family’s private island, served by staff and relaxing in one of the four houses built there.  Gat, a less wealthy outsider with a family connection, is invited to spend the summers with them and so their little group the Liars is born.

Cadence’s crush on Gat develops over the years, though like Othello, Gat is not a welcome suitor to the Sinclair’s eldest, white bred granddaughter (think tupping of the white ewe)  Cadence feels no such prejudice and becomes enamoured, describing him as ‘contemplation and enthusiasm, ambition and strong coffee.’

Then comes the incident of Summer 15. Cadence remembers nothing except that she was somehow in the water and smacked her head on the rocks, washing up on shore wearing only her underwear. She now suffers excruciating headaches and memory loss.
Infuriatingly, none of her family will tell her what happened. They claim it is better for her to remember it bit by bit herself.  Anyone expecting an angst packed, funny and boy obsessed read will find themselves in deeper waters, traversing cunning prose, darkly poetic and sharp witted.

The mystery unravels at a tantalising pace over the course of Summer 17, but it’s not just the desire to discover the truth that keeps you going; the complicated relationships are the hardest thing to unravel and this is not merely the ups and downs of teenage love.

Lockhart takes a rich young girl and instead of using her to detail a vapid, clueless romp through parties, fashion and decadent living (designed to whisk you into a fantasy of your own) she presents an insightful but fragile young woman ready to peel back the perfume- soaked skin of her family (herself included) to examine the twisted entrails underneath.
This metaphor may seem a little raw but Cadence’s narrative voice does not wax lyrical about the beauty of her surroundings or obsessive love.  Instead her descriptions are emotionally charged and visceral.  When Gat breaks the family rule of not talking about the dead, Cadence tells us: ‘every time Gat said these things, so casual, and truthful, so oblivious- my veins opened. My wrists split. I bled down my palms.’

Forbidden from expressing difficult feelings openly thanks to her family’s stiff upper lip, (read emotional constipation,) she desperately tries to smother her sensitive nature and cope in other ways.

One particularly excellent aspect of the novel is the use of fairy lore and allusion. Cadence retells stories of princesses lusting after material possessions just as her mother and aunts battle over their inheritance.   Cadence references King Lear, and while she loves her grandfather she starts to see through his veneer to the egotistical taunts and thinly veiled threats he makes, wielding, like a weapon, the only thing he has left in his world- possessions, just things.  This further links in with Gat’s own reading of Wuthering Heights and the character of Heathcliff. Unlike some other books on the market (ahem, Twilight…seems I am still grinding that axe), these literary comparisons enrich the story and haven’t been thrown in as an attempt to give depth to shallow, one dimensional characters or legitimise a writer with poor skills.  E. Lockhart’s writing speaks for itself, as does the fact that she rewrote this novel fifteen times.

I will leave the twists and turns of the plot for you to discover through Cadence’s questing eyes.  It may be my turn to wax lyrical, but this novel deserves all the praise it has received and I would dearly love to see it slip into High School English classrooms. It has all the markings of a coming of age classic without a shred of pretentiousness.  A scathing commentary on white, affluent privilege, outsiders and broken families who put money above relationships.  It’s also about wasting youth’s passion in the worst possible way.

Time for you to discover the dreadful mystery yourself. Go to it!

 

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