cover image The Lie

The Lie

Helen Dunmore. Atlantic Monthly, $24 (304p) ISBN 978-0-8021-2254-4

In this moving and complex novel from Dunmore (Orange Prize winner for A Spell of Winter), 21-year-old Daniel Branwell has returned to his small Cornish community after World War I, haunted by the specter of the close childhood friend he lost, whose ghostly manifestations seem so real that Branwell can actually smell the vile combination of “shit and rotten flesh, cordite and choloride of lime.” After the death of Mary Pascoe, a reclusive elderly neighbor who allowed Branwell to build a shelter on her land, he moves into her cottage, fulfilling one of her final wishes. The move should have given the returned veteran some stability, but nothing is that simple for him; he keeps Pascoe’s death a secret, believing no one would care about her passing, and tells those who ask that she is unwell and that he’s taking care of her. Flashbacks graphically depict Branwell’s grim experiences during the war, even as, in the book’s present, he fears that his lie cannot be sustained for the long term. Dunmore does a superb job of capturing her lead’s inner torment, even as his story creeps toward a shattering conclusion. (Apr.)