For those who mistakenly assume that PTSD is a malady of modern warfare, prize-winning author Helen Dunmore’s novel The Lie provides a poignant reminder that throughout history, the battle is far from over after a soldier returns home.
Such is the case for WWI veteran Daniel Branwell, whose return to his pastoral homeland in Cornwall proves to be no escape from the enemy. He is haunted by his morbid memories and crushing guilt over the death of his best friend Frederick. Dunmore’s deft and poetic narrative veers gracefully from realism to the supernatural—in particular, Daniel’s recurring glimpses of what appears to be Frederick’s restless ghost, invoking the horror of the trenches in all its grisly and grim detail.
While the reader is never quite certain if Daniel’s visions of his dead best friend are truly hauntings or simply hallucinatory, Dunmore provides a fresh counterpoint to the terrifying ambiguity of these scenes with the renewed friendship between the novel’s tormented antihero and Frederick’s stalwart sister, Felicia, a young war widow. Felicia is living with her toddler in the wealthy family’s cavernous manse, a place which holds both warm and chilling memories for Daniel.
As both Daniel and Felicia grieve over loved ones, the pair forge a bond that promises redemption—but which is soon threatened by a secret, the “lie” that is at the heart of Dunmore’s novel. It soon prompts suspicions that Daniel’s truth is not what it seems. As this impeccable and finely wrought literary tale winds to a chilling conclusion, readers will themselves be haunted by its evocative portrayal of a life-defining friendship and loss.