The Lie Tree

I can't tell you how many times I've rewritten the introduction to this post.  My feelings tell me: "GARHBHLEKJHSHFL READ THIS LGHKLAHFSDKGH!!!" with a hefty side of incoherent wailing and arm-flailing.

Alas, that does not a review make.  Zut.

The other thing hampering my ability to express myself in a coherent manner, besides my deep and abiding love for this book (as much as Cuckoo Song, also by Hardinge, also brilliant and flail-inducing), is the fact that anything I write will look like sad mushy peas next to The Lie Tree.  I cannot do it justice.  But, I suppose, I can attempt to convey its brilliance, if not with a bang, then with a whimper.  Perhaps with interpretive dance?

But I jest.  No more jesting.  No more dithering.

SO THIS BOOK IS AMAZING AND YOU NEED TO READ IT RIGHT NOW OTHERWISE I DON'T KNOW IF WE CAN BE FRIENDS ANYMORE.  And if we are not friends, then I revoke our mutual internet acquaintance.  I am serious about The Hardinge, people.  Bow to her.

Faith Sunderly is a good girl.  She has to be, since she is neither particularly pretty nor excessively flirtatious nor interested in the more feminine pursuits, such as picking out the exact shade of kid gloves to suit her dress, or maneuvering a ballroom in a hoop skirt.  Faith worships her father, the austere Reverend Sunderly.  Having made himself famous with the discovery of a nephilim skeleton and attempting to tie Biblical teachings together with evolutionary theory, the Reverend flies high among his scientific companions.  He's something of a rock star in his parish until ... well, until he suddenly is not.

His exceedingly pretty wife, Myrtle, whose sole ambition is to climb the social ladder and use her not-inconsiderable beauty to flirt, charm, and bamboozle her way to respectability, is Quite Put Out by the Sunderlys' ensuing flight from their home.  The cover story is that an archaeological dig on the remote island of Vane needs the good Reverend's rock-steady expertise in settling some matters of dispute regarding the dig site and the remains therein.  On the ferry ride to the island, however, Faith overhears a muttered conversation between her cheery Uncle Miles and her father: Sunderly has been named a "liar and a cheat" in the papers, and must flee before the collapse of his reputation crushes him.

And now aren't we ready for dysfunctional family fun times on the isle of Vane?  Father has eyes for nothing but a covered plant and guards it obsessively.  Myrtle, hoping to easily conquer Vane society, finds her pretty face mocked and derided.  Faith's job is to basically be invisible and take care of her younger brother Henry, whose tendency to write with his left hand causes their parents no end of grief.

Faith longs to be a natural scientist, and her inquisitive nature marks her as Too Masculine for society's tastes.  She had hoped that her father would nurture this love in her, but since she is a girl, and therefore quite expendable, he treats her harshly, dropping morsels of affection and praise here and there in order to keep his daughter in line.  When he invites her on a secret night mission, Faith is overjoyed--finally!  Her father trusts her!  He loves her!

And then he's dead.

Why did the Reverend Sunderly kill himself?  Or who murdered him?  And what was their motive?  Faith discovers, among her father's papers, a secret journal of a very special plant that he recovered while in India: the Lie Tree.   This tree thrives on lies--the bigger, the better.  And if you tell it a whopper, it will produce a fruit that shows you the absolute truth.  It is, quite literally, the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.

Faith's quest for the truth involves deceptions upon deceptions, and when truth can no longer be separated from fiction, her life is in danger.  How far will she go to know the truth?  Will the truth set her free?

Hardinge's novel deftly combines an analysis of belief, the nature of truth, and the human craving for affection.  All of the characters are nuanced and three-dimensional, and the windswept, barren island of Vane provides a bleak backdrop for this murderous family drama.


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