Cathy Rozier opens her narrative by informing us that she’s actually killed her best friend Nic. But before we find out how, we must go back and discover why; how two friends who spent so much time together could end up so opposed that their relationship ends in death. Intertwined with Cathy’s difficult story of angst-ridden teenagers is the story of Guernsey throughout World War II, when her father, uncle, and grandparents struggled through the German occupation, narrated through documents and letters in a variety of different voices. Put together, it’s the tale of an island then and now, the secrets held by so many people and the damage they can wreak on other lives.
At first, I found it difficult to get into this book. Cathy’s voice is acerbic, cynical, and self-deprecating; she’s a character I don’t think I could ever like. At the same time, her teenage attitude is incredibly appropriate for the kind of book this is, and it isn’t always necessary to like a character in order to gain appreciation for a book. And in the end I love the twisted storylines, particularly the historical letters and details from Charlie’s side of the story (surprise surprise).
There are quite a few bits and pieces in this novel about the occupation that are skipped out or found no place elsewhere, such as the burying of the prisoners’ bodies, that helped flesh out what I’d read before and add true atmosphere to this novel. Knowing precisely what happened in the past adds layers to Cathy’s story that simply wouldn’t exist in an ordinary contemporary novel with a mystery. Cathy has revelations to make about her family that can deeply impact her, but throughout she acts as a teenager would and I was completely convinced by her character.
Once engrossed, the novel is easy to race through, as we are keen to figure out just what happens next and how Cathy will handle everything that is happening around her. Perhaps not surprising given the subject matter, this is a dark book, with a setting that feels particularly grim. We can sense Cathy’s dissatisfaction with Guernsey and the little it offers to a modern day teenager even as the richness of its past has strong impacts on precisely the present that is so hum drum.
This is a book that, off-putting to start, turns out to be an addicting read. I had quite a time with it and feel I’ve been left with a lot to think about now that I’ve finished. I would definitely recommend The Book of Lies to those who are also interested in probing the past, about the difficulties of teenage years, or even just looking for a good story.
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