It’s been a little while since I’ve written a review for my Popsugar Reading Challenge but today I’m pleased to write about my choice for the National Book Award category. However, I’ve cheated on this, not being based in the USA, and have chosen Frances Hardinge’s The Lie Tree, which won the Costa Book of the Year 2015.
Sometimes, I am wary of awards. Like anything else, they are subjective and a book that wins doesn’t necessarily make it any better than others that were or weren’t shortlisted. However, reading The Lie Tree, I could see what made it worthy of such validation.
About the book
The story centres around Victorian heroine Faith, whose family flees mainland UK for Vane Island, in the midst of a scandal. Shortly after arriving, her natural scientist father, the Reverend Erasmus Sunderly, is found dead in suspicious circumstances. The locals, who have shunned him and his family after hearing of his misdoings, insist that he has committed suicide and refuse to allow him to be buried in sacred ground, but Faith’s mother is desperate to convince them otherwise and Faith is determined to help.
While she is investigating, Faith discovers an unusual tree that her father hid before his death – one that combusts in direct light and will only bear fruit if you whisper lies to it. The more the lies spread, the more prolific the tree grows. And whoever whispers the lies to the tree will be rewarded with a vision of a hidden truth if they consume the fruit.
With this knowledge, Faith starts spreading lies far and wide to discover what really happened to her father, whom she believes was murdered. However, while she finds she has a talent for lying, she also learns that untruths need little fire to spread uncontrollably. She also discovers that, sometimes, the truth isn’t what you really want to hear.
Why it’s a winner
The story starts atmospherically, as the family journey by boat to their new home. There is a sense of unease, unhappiness and discomfort and this never really leaves the family throughout the tale. The characters all seem to be uncomfortable in themselves and Faith’s father is a typical Victorian patriarch – dismissive of his daughter whom he says will always be a financial burden, to him and then to her younger brother Howard, unless she can marry well. Faith, though, has other desires – mainly to follow in her beloved father’s footsteps in the natural science world.
Faith is a stubborn but gutsy heroine, full of indignation at the future in store for her. Despite her father’s cruel words, she idolises him, often scorning her mother who she sees as weak and ineffectual. What Hardinge does so well is to show how Faith wants to break the rules for Victorian womanhood and scorns her mother’s femininity, but eventually realises that feminine wiles are essential to survive in a world where men call the shots. The reader roots for Faith – she is an admirable heroine – clever, brave, loyal and uncompromising. She has her faults, of course, as every heroine must, but she does realise these as the story progresses and learns to adapt her behaviour to manipulate others. In all, The Lie Tree exposes Victorian womanhood and then shows how females discretely subvert it, in contrast to Faith’s more blatant approach.
I really loved this book, especially as the story got going. The beginning felt slow at times, perhaps drawn out by the high usage of similes and metaphors (which I have discovered is a feature of Hardinge’s writing in general). However, as Faith travels deeper into her quest, the tension ratchets up, and the story becomes more of a thriller than perhaps a fantasy. The ending was very clever and very satisfying.
I’m glad I picked this book for the award-winning category. It mixes elements of the ghost story, fantasy, thriller and historical fiction through a feisty character. Perhaps it will appeal more to girls than boys for this reason but it deserves to be on the bestseller lists. One to get for my school library I think!
If you would like to read an extract from The Library Tree, check out this link:
Have you read The Lie Tree? What did you think of it?