The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

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The White Lie by Andrea Gillies

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Sue Magee
Reviewed by Sue Magee
Summary: Did Ursula kill her nephew - and if so, where is his body? Michael - the nephew in question - tells this tense and multi-layered story. Highly recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: February 2012
Publisher: Short Books
ISBN: 978-1780720395

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One scorching hot summer's afternoon Ursula Salter hurls herself into the drawing room of her parents' house and delivers the devastating news that she's killed her nephew, Michael, and that he's in the loch. But is this what's happened? Ursula might be in her late twenties but she has the mind and understanding of a child and – crucially – there's no body to be found. There are contradictions and inconsistencies in what Ursula says – and evidence from someone else who might have this own agenda – all of which allows the Salters to close ranks and construct a version of what happened designed to protect Ursula and allow themselves to avoid the truth.

And then there's the ultimate twist which is there right from the beginning. Our narrator is Michael Salter who begins by telling us that he's dead – that much he knows for sure, but as you read The White Lie you will wonder about what is true, what is imagined and what is constructed. For Michael tells this story in much the same way that an artist paints a picture. Here are no straight lines, no certainties but just a build up of colour to draw out, to accentuate certain events.

There's an official story, of course – and it's been circulated in the village – that Michael has left Peattie. It's not too much of a stretch of the imagination as Michael had not been happy for some time. He's the only child of Ottilie, who won't tell him, or anyone else, who his father is. There are suspicions – some would say certainties – but Michael wanted to work as a woodsman and the family rely on this as the explanation for his disappearance. There's an additional factor too. Ursula says that she and Michael had a sexual relationship and some members of the family are so disgusted by this that they feel that even if Michael is in the loch, that's where he deserves to stay. Not, of course, that they would openly express that opinion…

You begin by wondering how the family think that they will be able to carry this through, that, surely, it must all come tumbling down very quickly. And then you will doubt. There's a poisonous atmosphere of guilt, which pervades everything, but who believes what, exactly and on what grounds? And, most shockingly, where did the guilt start?

They're wonderful characters. Michael's shadowy and he emerges from the family's view of him as repeated by himself. He's a remarkably truthful narrator, with no seeming axe to grind and the family – several generations of it and various branches are totally believable, yet unbelievable at the same time. If I've a minor quibble it's that I sometimes lost track of who was who – and resorted to a rudimentary family tree part way through the book.

It's a book which has been crafted rather than written and there's a ratcheting up of the tension as fourteen years of dissembling, lies and deceit comes to a head at a birthday party. By the time I was half way through the book I was returning to it at every spare moment to find out what happened – and it really wasn't what I was expecting.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje.

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Buy The White Lie by Andrea Gillies at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The White Lie by Andrea Gillies at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The White Lie by Andrea Gillies at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The White Lie by Andrea Gillies at


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