"Tell Me No Lies" Lisa Hall
Don't. Trust. Anyone. And that includes yourself!
This is one of the most anticipated and most talked about thrillers on social media and I was unable to resist requesting it once I began to see the reviews from other bloggers! The story is about Steph who has just moved into a new house with husband Mark and young son Henry. She is newly pregnant and along with this promise of a new life growing inside her, she is also hoping for a new life for her whole family as they are trying to escape their previous one.
The prologue is suitably intriguing with the chilling lines:
Sometimes people aren't what they seem. Sometimes people set out to destroy everything they hold dear. And sometimes, that person is you.
Then we meet Steph, our protagonist who narrates the story, as she moves into her new home. There are lots of clues and hints about a problems in the past, secrets and a tension between the couple as Steph says she "tries to see the man I married, not the man who broke my heart," and the "stench of decay that still surrounds our relationship." There are a few references to her "overwhelming sense of unease" as she takes in the new home and her new neighbours which builds a lot of suspense and clearly sets the readers' expectations high for a dark and sinister tale.
Steph's husband Mark is a bit of a slippery fish. In essence, he seems loving, dutiful and very committed, but then neighbour Lila introduces herself saying she met him last week which he has not mentioned to Steph. Although this perhaps in itself isn't too incriminating, it is an example of a kind of drip-drip-drip of little clues making us wonder whether actually, maybe we can't trust Mark. Steph doesn't seem to be wholly convinced she can trust him either, so naturally we are led question him too, especially as Steph proceeds to refer to "bad stuff" in the past when they have had problems.
By the end of the first few chapters it is clear Steph is vulnerable, troubled and trying to suppress a tendency to be overly anxious. Her sentence "maybe if I pretend for long enough that everything is going to be ok, it will be ok," reiterates this sense that she may be unstable or untrustworthy. Hall's use of cliffhangers at the end of each short chapter maintains the urgent pace of the novel and also the feeling that Steph's world is rather fragile and close to disintegrating.
I struggled a little with Steph as a character. She tells us almost too often that she'll try to make more effort, try harder, do whatever it is Mark wants of her, give Lila more time, be a better friend - keep a lid on her real feelings, close her emotions down a bit more......In a way the repetition is effective in suggesting that she is being patronised, manipulated or bullied by those claiming to be doing their best for her and someone with such a traumatic and unhappy past is clearly going to suffer from low self esteem and seek to please those around her. It also heightens the suggestion that she might be an unreliable narrator which I liked. But I just felt very occasionally that this weakness and vulnerability was a little over played and for me, there was a fine line between feeling sympathy for her and feeling frustration.
Lila is a great character. So controlled and carefully presented with a sixth sense for being in the right place at the right time, for her unfailing pleasantness and smooth explanations. Perhaps a little obvious and cliched, but satisfyingly suspicious in her fawning behaviour and the way she quickly makes Steph so dependable on her.
I must admit I spent the first 50% of the novel anticipating a twist and wanting to find out if my hunches were right. I changed my mind a few times about who I thought was telling the truth and who I thought I could believe which made it quite a compulsive read - even when I wasn't wholly in love with the characters I still wanted to know if I was right and how it would all play out!
But I to admit that the final 20% completely took my breath away. Suddenly Hall's story soars to a stunning climax which is full of twists and page-shaking moments when you start to fidget in your seat - trying to delve between the cover itself and grab the character's out of their precarious positions. It absolutely charges along on a wave of intense electricity and I really was impressed with the final denouement. The last few sentences are absolutely ingenious. And haunting.
So despite my reservations and cautiousness in the early pages, Hall completely caught me unaware with her clever and well executed ending which will rival all other current psychological thriller titles.
Really, this is a good book. But you don't need to trust me when I recommend you this book. After all, you shouldn't trust anyone. You should just trust yourself. After all, you can always trust yourself.........
Thanks so much to NetGalley and the publishers for approving me for an ARC of this book.
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