"Lie With Me" Sabine Durrant
You can do foolish and desperate things, but maybe sometimes you just have to hold up a hand and take the blame.
Meet our narrator Paul. Forty two years old, author of one literary success 20 years ago but still trying to use it to gain kudos and prestige. He's not very pleasant; a womaniser, selfish and always looking to manipulate a situation to his own interest and benefit. Then he meets Alice through an old school friend and manages to get himself invited on holiday to Greece with her, her family and a few close friends. As he has recently been forced to move back in with his mother, the idea of sun, sex, free meals and a cheap holiday appeals greatly to his financial and romantic situation. However, it is not the relaxing break he had planned .........What was it that really happened 10 years ago when the group were last in Greece and Jasmine - the daughter of one of the couples - went missing? Alice is so convinced she's still alive - can the friends find her after all these years?
This is a story of telling lies. It is a story of what happens when you try to create a myth and reinvent the past with more untruths. It is about responsibility, friendship, obsession, greed and above all, the consequences of some devastating errors of judgement.
It took me a little while to settle into this book as I wasn't really sure what to expect. I found Paul a difficult narrator to relate to - he is quite obnoxious and rude, clearly happy to use people to his own advantage and certainly not very trust worthy. There are several clues from very early on that alert the reader that they need to be wary of what he tells us about himself and his life as things don't always stack up. Once I realised he was a man trying to perpetuate an image, desperately trying to hide the broken reality from everyone, I began to feel a smidge of sympathy towards him. Although Paul doesn't really let you feel this too strongly before he's off using poor widow Alice as a convenient girlfriend as she also offers a place to eat and sleep now he's been kicked out of his own flat.
As the novel progresses I actually felt quite captivated by the complexity of Paul's character. I fully admire Durrant's ability to write so convincingly from a male point of view. Paul is so realistic and so completely well crafted Durrant shows terrific insight and observation. It is a bold move to write from a male perspective, particularly with a character that readers are largely going to dislike.
There is something pathetic about Paul as well. He's an unreliable narrator, socially awkward, isolated and excluded by Alice's friends - although he's not always blameless as his comments are often inappropriate. His behaviour can be lewd, competitive and always controlled by his pretence to be something he is not. The lies slip so easily from his lips, just like the objects, loose cash and other people's belongings seem to slip into his pockets. But occasionally there is a glimpse of vulnerability or insecurity. Mainly though, he felt rather dangerous. Unscrupulous. Unpredictable. A great pretender and only ever half aware of his actions. We are so unsure of his capabilities, who he really is and what really happened in Greece all those years ago when they last holidayed there together and Jasmine went missing, that the pages are crammed with suspense and tension. It suddenly becomes an unputdownable novel.
The other characters are not always that likeable either. They are either too pathetic, too arrogant, too weak, too snide....It's a really clever insight and exploration of group dynamics. And obviously it is largely relayed through Paul's eyes so not always the most unbiased perspective! But there is something deeply addictive about the book. I think it is the very present sense that something absolutely terrible is about to happen!
Most of the book takes place in Greece. This is clever as usually a holiday provides a neutral location where all the characters can feel equal but here it merely intensifies the tensions between them all and there is no escaping their memories of 10 years ago. On holiday there are different rules, different expectations and people behave differently. There is also a prevailing sense of heat and intensity. As well as a language barrier and a different police and judicial system. Perfect ingredients for a satisfying thriller!
The denouement of the novel is fantastic and I am desperate to talk about it but it's impossible without spoiling things for those who have not read it! The last 4% of the novel was excellent. I know it's a cliche but no, I did not see that coming! Wow!
As Andrew says to Paul, "All truth is subjective," and as Paul later reflects "small lies, small errors of judgement - they add up..." Oh yes they sure do! There is many a lesson between these pages about lies, truth, judgment and mistakes. This is a book which explores how "long lasting damage can be caused by casual cruelty."
I think this is the first book by Sabine Durrant I have read and I am definitely going to look her others up. I liked her ability to write from a male point of view and how the reader is left to look back at everything they thought they knew and reconsider the whole situation again. I liked that I actually still don't really know how to respond to Paul - or Alice, or several of the central protagonists - and I think this book would make a great Book Group choice because of some of the discussions it could provoke.
My thanks to NetGalley for the advanced copy of this novel in return for a fair and honest review.