Review: The Book of Lies, Mary Horlock

Okay. Here’s what it is. When a book is called The Book of Lies, I I wanted the narrator to be truly, truly unreliable. Unreliable as hell is what I wanted. I wanted her to bleed unreliability. I wanted to never feel sure what was going on, and at the end of the book, I wanted there to be a SHOCKING TWIST where the book told me, Hey, you thought you knew what was going on? Boy were you wrong (a la A Dark-Adapted Eye).

That’s what I wanted. I had it in my head that’s what I was going to read, when I got The Book of Lies out of the library. And y’all know how it is when you have it in your head you’re going to read one thing and it turns out when you read it that it’s not that thing, it’s something else. It’s not good, you guys, it’s not good. Expectations are a bitch.

Cat Rozier swears she didn’t kill her friend (frenemy! I hate that word!) Nicolette on purpose. She swears she didn’t intend to become a murderer. Then it’s all flashback. Since the death of Cat’s father, an eminent Channel Islands historian, Cat has become extremely knowledgeable about the history of the Channel Islands under German occupation. Not pleasant stories. As she tells the story of her stormy friendship with Nicolette, we also read the confessional documents of her long-deceased uncle Emile, whose father died during the occupation.

Here’s what it is, y’all. I liked this book once I figured out that it wasn’t going to be so much a book of lies, as it was a book of secrets. Cause I love secrets! I love family secrets. I love historical secrets. Secrets are the best. There are few things I love better than the elegant, gradual unfolding of a backstory. Remember how JK Rowling did that in Harry Potter? So awesome. Oh mercy, the day that it was revealed [name redacted] was eavesdropping when [name redacted] was [action redacted] to [name redacted]? (See how I am spoiler-conscious? That’s all for you guys.) My passionate love of backstory and Family Secrets saved this book for me. I didn’t not like it. I’m warning you about this so you can benefit from my experience and go into this book without false expectations. Expect secrets! And a few lies. But mostly regular secrets.

The Book of Lies suffered from a few of the pitfalls you can suffer from if you insist on doing past-and-present storylines. I wasn’t madly in love with either storyline, but the Emile parts were significantly less interesting than the Cat parts. The most interesting thing, in both storylines, was the history of the Channel Islands. As the link between the past storyline and the present storyline, this history kept me interestedish in both but wasn’t quite enough of a link. The two storylines felt adjacent, not intertwined.

When I write this sort of review, I feel like a dummy. This review is like: Bad stuff! But not as bad as you thought! Good stuff! But not as good as you thought! I am sorry. This is what you get when I wait and wait and wait to write a review. I need to get more focused and be focused and methodical and an awesome blogger. Someday that will happen again. Unemployment was much more conducive to blogging productivity than employment plus commute plus roommate woes.

Love,
Jenny

Here are author reviews, courtesy of the Book Blogs Search Engine. Thanks to Heather, particularly, for the recommendation!

  • I bought this book when I pillaged the Borders going out of business sale, and have had sort of high expectations of it. It does sound as if the title should have been The Book of Secrets. I still want to read it, but it has just dropped down on my priority list a little bit. And don’t knock your reviews, lady! I always find them tremendously helpful and entertaining, and they always let me know if a book will work for me or not. I hope you have a Happy Halloween!

    • It’s a good read! It has a pretty good plot in which many things happen and is totally worth reading. But I was hoping it would have more lies. More lies! is what I wanted. If you read any books where everyone lies and they lie all the time AND they involve Channel Island history, that would be awesome.

  • Oh no, you have roommate woes, such a shame ­čÖü I hope it’s not too bad. For books that are all ‘lies, I have them’ ‘Liar’ by Justine Larbalestier is great. You never know how reliable the narrator is, like NEVER.

    • It’s okay, they are (I hope, I hope, I hope) almost completely altogether over. Once the keys come in the mail, I think it’ll be perfect.

      Oh, yes, I remember Liar! I need to get on that, it’s been out for ages and I still haven’t managed to read it!

  • J.K. Rowling is indeed the queen of slow, gradual revelations. I dream of one day finding another series that satisfies me so much on that regard. This sounds like a book I could enjoy, but I’ll keep in mind it should have been called The Book of Secrets.

    PS: Hugs and much sympathy re: roommate woes!

    • Oh my gosh, same here. I miss the Harry Potter thing still happening. It’s not at all the same sort of thing, but for a really good series that is really good and has many good things in it, have you read Megan Whalen Turner’s books yet? I want you to and am seizing this opportunity to order you to! I think you would like them. The Thief is the first one and then The Queen of Attolia.

      • I am with Jenny on The Thief series. In FACT, just going out on a limb here, I’ll wager that MWT is even better than JKR at the slow reveal by the time that series is done. I liked JKR slow reveal but I didn’t think it was complete as, well, one of the reveals ended with James being a tool and Lily being an angel, and I get that JKR was a single mom for a long, long time, but that was heart-breaking.

        I love unreliable narrators, too. That is why =cough= you should read Wish Her Safe at Home.

        And dude, what’s with your roommates? I thought they seemed so promising at the start.

  • Mumsy

    (hugs) Roommate dilemmas will work out fine. It’s all good. I know what you mean about this book – I haven’t read it yet, but I had just precisely that reaction. However, I am not as big a fan of the unreliable narrator as you are, so I might be okay with this one.

    • Ahhh, I love an unreliable narrator. Indeed, do you not care for them?

  • With storylines in two times it’s either a home-run or a terrible miss for me. Sometimes it is all fabulousness, but most of the time I love on storyline and hate the other. One of my biggest pet peeves is when they start the book with what could be the epilogue and then flash back to the action. And I keep thinking, why should I read this? I pretty much already know what’s going to happen. That’s just me though. I think that’s why I have issues with the dual time storylines sometimes.

    • Yeah, I have the same experience with multiple storylines in books, despite a very strong desire to love such books. Have you read Possession? An excellent example of that sort of book.

  • trapunto

    Hey, I couldn’t remember why I read A Dark Adapted Eye, and it was you. Thanks. I think. It bothered my sleep for some nights, and got me started on a ironical british lady kick.

    Secrets are good too.

    • Did you like it? You liked it, I hope?

      • trapunto

        I liked it. You’re right, she writes like a dream.

  • I have this book. I will be curious to see my reaction to it. I really should get around to reading it one of these days!

    • I hope you like it when you do read it (better than me I hope!)

  • Oho those pesky expectations. They do so often get in the way and require slightly painful u-turning at a later date in the story. Yup, happens to us all. But readers who can do the u-turning are my favourite sort, because it isn’t easy, but it’s being true to the book. So I read this review and thought, what a good reader that Jenny is; so open and flexible and all sorts of good things. And always hilarious, too.

    • Aw! You are so kind! Because I feel like this was a pretty spastic review. :p

  • I love it when I pick up a book and have expectations of one thing then find out that thing aint it so I have to change expectations – drop them, perhaps – and set a new set of expectations and wa la! book experience saved! It happens sometimes.

    • It kind of happened with this book! But not quite enough to make me love it. But I’ve convinced myself that I wouldn’t have loved it in any case.

  • There’s more than one book with this title, and I’ve read a couple simply because when I was a kid, my parents were trying to instill some respect for sources in me whenever I’d announce that I knew something because I’d “read it somewhere.” They would grimace and demand “where? THE BOOK OF LIES?” Naturally, we’ve had a brisk exchange of books that call themselves that.

    • Hahahah, I wish I had a good respect for sources. I am terrible about remembering where I read things. I’m always like, Yeah! Somewhere! On the internet! The internet said so!

      • *snickers* I wish I had thought of Jeanne’s parents’ response.

  • Nice review, Jenny! Though the book was different from what you expected, I liked your review very much because it expanded on expectations and actual reading experience. Have you read ‘An Instance of the Fingerpost’ by Iain Pears? It was the first unreliable-narrator book that I read and it is still the best I have ever read. I should re-read it one of these days.

  • But what is the difference between a lie and a secret? I always have trouble finding the line there…because one becomes the other…letting someone believe something else, which can be misunderstood because you’re keeping a secret, is just a fancy way of lying. ::shakes head::

    A-n-y-w-a-y! …I completely understand the feeling of expecting one thing, finding something “other” than you expected, still seeing the value in what you weren’t expecting, but also still feeling that twinge of having expected something else. So that you can never really un-expect…and you’re stuck having to deal with that! ::sigh::

  • Pingback: The Book of Lies, Mary Horlock | Reviews from a Serial Reader()