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!

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH HELLA GRICHI

On the Mediterranean, the Power of Nature, and the Beauty of Tabarka 

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I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Hella Grichi, a fellow contributor to the Future Fire Press Anthology:  Fae Visions of the Mediterranean.  Her story ‘The Wisps of Tabarka’ is a compelling tale of spirits of the forest, with themes of persecution, nature, rebirth and renewal.

Hella is a post-graduate student of English Literature, History and Linguistics at l’Ecole Normale Supérieure in Tunis. In our interview we discuss the Mediterranean, Hella’s international background and creative projects she is involved in.  

 

ME:  What does the Mediterranean mean to you?  Is it an important force in your life and imagination?

HELLA: The Mediterranean has always been part of my life. I spend my summers swimming in it, crossing it or contemplating it. Nature in general is one of my life’s driving forces, especially the forest. It is a soothing and inspiring element and I am lucky to be able to be so close to the Mediterranean sea and the North-Western forests of Tunisia. My love for this very region also played a vital role in the conception of “The Wisps of Tabarka”.

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ME:  Your story The Wisps of Tabarka is a poignant one, which manages to balance sadness with hope.  Can you tell us the inspiration behind it?

HELLA: When I started writing the story, I was going through a phase where it was up to me to succumb to sadness, or to rise above it and remain the cheerful woman that I am. These feelings combined with my endless love for nature and folklore, and my desire to eternalize the beauty of Tabarka that hasn’t been written about much yet led to a storm of ideas. The words just poured out of me and it was an amazing experience. The album “Beltaine” of neo-pagan folk artist Jennifer van der Harten who is also a member of the folk band Omnia also triggered underlying emotions that surfaced naturally and contributed to the elaboration of the story.

When I started writing the story, I was going through a phase where it was up to me to succumb to sadness, or to rise above it and remain the cheerful woman that I am.

ME: You are a co-founder of Aspire to Inspire.  Can you tell me about your involvement in this and what was behind its founding?  What do you find most rewarding about it?

HELLA: Aspire to Inspire is a student-led initiative that I started with friends in 2013 and which has been organizing peformance poetry events in the last few years, one of which is soon to take place on May 1st 2016 and is called “Unleash the Poet Within You”. In Tunisia, it is the only event that specializes in English language poetry. The most rewarding facet of it is the success of these events and how young poets actually participate in it with so much passion and devotion in their hearts. The event has been ever-growing and it is so fulfilling to see that the efforts we put into this initiative bear such precious fruits: seeing these young talents shine on stage.

Psst… More on Hella’s  poetry below- a video of her performance poetry…

ME: I read in your anthology biography that you grew up in Germany, and returned to Tunisia in 2001.  Can you tell me what languages you speak, and what you love most about writing in each of them?

HELLA: I returned to Tunisia in 2005. It was a tough transition at first since I was only 14 at that time. But growing up bilingual and between two cultures is amazing. I speak Arabic, Tunisian Arabic, German, English and French. I mainly write in English of course but I used to write short stories in German and poetry in French. It is interesting how each language has a different feeling to it, different idioms, sounds and expressions. I can’t wait to learn more languages and eventually even write poetry in them.

IMG-20160411-WA0006ME: You do an incredible job creating a world with so much depth and character in so few words.   How long have you been writing?   Do you have any tips based on your own works and efforts for other young people hoping to be published?

HELLA: I have been writing since I was a child. First in German, then in English and French too but what stuck with me in the end was English. I read a lot in English and feel that I can best express myself artistically in English. If I could give a humble tip to any reader out there, it would be this: write. Just sit down and let your thoughts and feelings flow. Like any other artistic skill, practice and perseverance are the key. Don’t be afraid to put down what you think, don’t hesitate to play with language devices and break the rules. Writing is like therapy to me: to give life to what is in me and see it written down in front of me gives me such intense relief and happiness.

Don’t be afraid to put down what you think, don’t hesitate to play with language devices and break the rules.

You can read Hella’s story, and many more stories and poems, in the Anthology.  It is available in both ebook and print format.  This link will take you to its listing on Amazon.  To read more articles and interviews about this anthology and other projects from The Future Fire visit their press blog here.

 

As promised a link to Hella’s powerful poem, performed with Aspire to Inspire:

Fae Visions of the Mediterranean Anthology

Faevisions_front.pngSo!  I have a story featured in this new anthology.  I am truly astounded by the caliber of writing in it, and am so honoured to be there alongside these talented folks.  The anthology was officially released for sale on the 1st of May.  You can buy it on amazon here.

It is a very unusual and delightful anthology, with writing both old and new, snippets of poems and stories in various languages from the Mediterranean region and translations of these into English.  Its a real treasure trove in this way, I have really enjoyed looking at the beauty of the different languages on the pages of the anthology, even if I couldn’t understand them.  It was also lovely to read and see if I could find any words familiar or related to the languages I do know.

I am sharing here a link to the blog of the publisher- The Future Fire.  Over the next few weeks there will be interviews and articles on writers and on the mysteries of the Mediterranean, the monsters and the myths that abound from the varied cultures both ancient and modern.

I will keep this blog updated by sharing new releases, and will be putting up an interview I carried out with a fellow contributor, Hella Grichi.  This will be publish on Friday, and I hope you come check it out.

Futhermore!  Please check out the latest blog on Bad Apple Zine- we are still eagerly calling for submissions- especially from young authors ages 16-21.