Review: The Lie Tree

The Lie Tree has been one of my TBRs for a few months now, and shot up the list once I got a ticket to the Frances Hardinge and Sarah Perry double-bill at Ed Book Fest.

The Lie Tree tells the story of Faith Sunderly and her family, who travel to the island of Vane in an attempt to flee a scandal which threatens to ruin her father. In their first few days on Vane Faith’s parents manage to alienate most of the tight-knit community, and then Faith’s father is found dead. While the adults wrangle over whether the death was accidental or a suicide, Faith believes that he has been murdered; because Faith knows that her father was hiding a great secret – the lie tree.

The Victorian setting is crucial to this story. Firstly, in examining the craze for Natural Science, and the impact of theories of natural selection and evolution on faith. Secondly, by demonstrating the lack of options available to women, epitomised by Faith and her desire to be taken seriously as a Natural Scientist, but also explored through Myrtle, Miss Hunter, and Agatha Lambert.

In a recent interview with Writing Magazine Hardinge talked about how she writes with her 12-year-old self in mind. This comment resonated with me because, as I read, I was accutely aware of how much my teenaged self would have loved this book. That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy it as an adult, and I’m not sure that it can easily be categorised as YA, just because the protagonist is a teenaged girl. The novel is equally a well-researched piece of historical fiction, and a work of magical realism.

Faith herself is a wonderful character. There are many reasons to empathise with her: her desperation to be loved by her father, her resentment at being dismissed and overlooked, her love for her brother; yet she is at times profoundly unlikeable. The story details not just the progress of her investigation into her father’s death, but also her internal growth, as she processes the realisation that the adults in her life are not as they appear. There are moments of real darkness as Faith carries out her plans, and yet she also learns the mercy that is so lacking in the adults. I thought the final twist was rather obvious, but the effect on Faith, who has misread the clues, and is forced out of the shadows into direct action is very satisfying.

Since The Lie Tree won the Costa Book of the Year Award for 2015, I doubt that it needs much publicity, but I will be recommending it widely anyway. Starting here – if you’ve yet to read The Lie Tree I suggest you get yourself to a bookshop asap!