The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge was an impulse buy – I walked into Blackwell’s to see if I could look at the Illustrated Edition of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, found this instead, and I didn’t even do my usual dithering as to whether I needed/deserved/should have whatever book I held in my clammy hands. I didn’t need it, I wanted it. It sounded like a peculiar children’s book, and it was illustrated and a hardback and just so pretty and I wanted it. I bowed to my own will very easily.
Faith loves science, and knowing things. But because she is only a girl and not a precious son, she is told to keep quiet, keep calm, keep still, to be dutiful and not nosy. But when Faith and her family move from their home in Kent, Faith can’t resist going through her eminent naturalist father’s notes, and finds out a bit more about his spectacular fall from grace. When her father dies in what appears to be a suicide after some peculiar behaviours, Faith finds herself in charge of the mysterious Lie Tree, and a thirst for vengeance and knowledge. She isn’t quiet, she isn’t weak, she is angry, and she is strong, now it’s time for everything to come together.
“Faith had always told herself that she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies.”
It was a very interesting concept, and very well written. Everything is through the perspective of this teenage Victorian girl who is treated like her younger brothers nursemaid. She is only allowed access to certain knowledge, men citing her “female sensibilities” and there is a rather excellent example of mansplaining where Faith admits to letting a man explain things she already knew because it meant people were talking to here about science. And Faith is very angry, but people don’t see that, they don’t see her because she is a girl who fades into the background trying to be good enough for her father to see her. Faith finds she is very good at lying, because no-one expects it of her.
“here in the drawing room, each lady quietly relaxed and became more real, expanding into the space left by the men. Without visibly changing, they unfolded, like flowers, or knives.”
It’s a tale about the damage of lies, and how lies and secrets can make you feel powerful, but that secrets have huge consequences that may not be immediately present. Also, about the power of society to overlook brilliance because of gender. Even Faith is guilty of pigeon-holing her mother into a box, not seeing how much work her mother is putting in to keep the family afloat in her own strange way. There are many different versions of women in the novel – you have the innocent and the devious, the airhead and the manipulator, the cruel and the scared – my particular favourite was the woman who made jokes about a man’s relative “height” and its relation to importance, because it’s the sort of thing that goes over Faith’s head.
“Large people tend to have large heads. Men are no cleverer than we are, Miss Sunderly. Just taller.”
Faith herself plays everyone expertly, used to having to hide – in fact the only one she doesn’t pretend to be an airheaded little girl with is the photographer’s teenage son, who she hates. They end up becoming tentative allies that dislike each other, but he is the only person to believe her.
“I did not see your mother at the funeral,’ she said, following the thought. ‘She stopped coming to them after her own,’ Paul answered simply.”
The illustrations are marvellous, and also nothing like how I imagined each character which was quite entertaining. The writing itself is absolutely beautiful in its simplicity, with fantastical descriptions that speak of the harshness of reality ect. The Lie Tree, for example, will only grow and bear fruit when a lie has been told, and in exchange, the fruit bears a bitter truth. The “truths” read a little like accounts of LSD trips and Faith doesn’t understand what they’re about immediately, so neither do we, as readers.
Sometimes, I really prefer children’s books because they are simple but genius. This is technically a YA novel, according to Amazon. It’s a slow-paced mystery that develops like a film – slowly then all at once. It is lots of mystery and backstory and piecing together snippets and when the pace picks up, it’s a sprint for the finish and lots of things happen that leave your head spinning. I thought it was a very pro-women message, as everyone in the book is guilty of overlooking the women and it is a huge criticism against a patriarchal society.
It was an interesting, thought provoking and beautiful book about grief and anger and lies and truth. I do recommend this! I am hoping to read some other books by Frances Hardinge should the opportunity arise.