Literature and War Readalong July 28 2014: The Lie by Helen Dunmore

The Lie

Helen Dunmore has written several times about WWI. Back in 2012 we’ve read her earlier novel Zennor in Darkness, a book that made it on my Best of List that year. Naturally I’m looking forward to read her latest novel The Lie. I’ve seen a few reviews here and there but avoided to read them as I want to discover it for myself. What I like the most about Helen Dunmore is her beautiful prose. You can sense right away that she is also a poet.

If Rudyard Kipling’s epitaph at the beginning of the book is anything to go by, then it will be a heartbreaking novel.

If any question why we died

Tell them, because our fathers lied

This epitaph is doubly tragic as Kipling lost his son in WWI. Judging from the movie My Boy Jack, the boy would never have enlisted if it hadn’t been for his father. Here’s Kipling’s touching poem:

My Boy Jack

Have you news of my boy Jack?
Not this tide.
When d’you think that hell come back?
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

Has any one else had word of him?
Not this tide.
For what is sunk will hardly swim,
Not with this wind blowing, and this tide.

Oh, dear, what comfort can I find?
None this tide,
Nor any tide,
Except he did not shame his kind —
Not even with that wind blowing, and that tide.

Then hold your head up all the more,
This tide,
And every tide;
Because he was the son you bore,
And gave to that wind blowing and that tide!

Here are the first sentences of The Lie

He comes to me, clagged in mud from head to foot. A mud statue, but a breathing one. The breath whistles in and out of him. He stands at my be-end. Even when the wind is banging over the roof that I’ve bodged with corrugated iron, it’s very quiet. He doesn’t speak. Sometimes I wish he would break the silence, but then I’m afraid of what he might say. I can smell the mud.You never forget the reek of it. Thick, almost oily, full of shit and rotten flesh, cordite and chloride of lime. He has got himself coated all over with it. He’s camouflaged. He might be anything, but I know who he is.

And  some details and the blurb for those who want to join

The Lie by Helen Dunmore (UK 2014) WWI, Novel, 304 pages

Set during and just after the First World War, The Lie is an enthralling, heart-wrenching novel of love, memory and devastating loss by one of the UK’s most acclaimed storytellers. Cornwall, 1920, early spring.

A young man stands on a headland, looking out to sea. He is back from the war, homeless and without family.

Behind him lie the mud, barbed-wire entanglements and terror of the trenches. Behind him is also the most intense relationship of his life.

Daniel has survived, but the horror and passion of the past seem more real than the quiet fields around him.

He is about to step into the unknown. But will he ever be able to escape the terrible, unforeseen consequences of a lie?


The discussion starts on Monday, 28 July 2014.

Further information on the Literature and War Readalong 2014, including all the book blurbs, can be found here.

18 thoughts on “Literature and War Readalong July 28 2014: The Lie by Helen Dunmore

    • Yes, they do. I hope it won’t be a disappointment like the Pat barker novel. I’ve read a few of Helen Dunmore’s books and usually love the writing.

  1. Oh, that is heartbreaking about Kipling, Caroline, but thank you for sharing. I can tell this is something I really want to read. When I think of WWI, the first thing that comes to mind is the mud. So many novels deal with how awful it was.

    • The movie My Boy Jack is hearbreaking. At the end, the actor who plays Kiplin recites this poem and it’s so so sad.
      I’ve never been disappointed by Helen Dunmore and eally look forward to this.
      I hope you’ll like her as well, should you read her.

  2. Caroline,
    I read The Lie earlier this year and plan to join in. Both The Lie and last year’s The Greatcoat are among my favorites. The Greatcoat blew me away last year–don’t miss it if you haven’t read it. I think so highly of Dunmore’s talents–she casts such a spell–I’m in awe.

    • I’m so glad to hear this. I’m in awe as well. She’s one of those writers who make me wish to be able to write like she does. I haven’t read The Greatcoat after the shock of Jeanette Winterson’s novel which was also published by Hammer but now I’m keen on reading it as well.
      I’m gald you’ll join the discussion.

  3. I have no idea how people who directly experienced the horror of WWI managed to live any kind of life afterward. The survivor guilt alone would have been enough to sink most returned servicemen. How awful for Kipling to have to live with the loss of his son under those circumstances.

    My library has the book so I’ve reserved it. I hope I get time to read it this month and can join in the discussion.

    • I wonder as well.
      Kipling’ is one of the most heartbreaking stories and what’s even worse is that Jack was one of those whose death was never fully clarified. He simply disappeared from the battle field. Later they found someone who saw him die, it seems. And he was so not cut out to be a soldier, yet his father pushed him.
      I’m glad that you will join us. I hope this is a s wonderful as her other writing.

  4. This looks like a wonderful book, Caroline. That epitaph written by Kipling and his poem are both heartbreaking. I didn’t know that Kipling lost his son in the First World War. Happy reading! I will look forward to hearing your thoughts on this book.

Thanks for commenting, I love to hear your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.