Sunday, 22 February 2015

There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake

“There will be two lies,” the coyote tells Shelby. “Then there will be the truth. And that will be hardest of all.”

Shelby lives a very sheltered life. Home schooled, the only friends she has are on the internet, and the only place her mother ever allows her to go alone is the library. She lives too much in her own world for her to be safe in the outside one, she is told, and pretty much everything she know about the world, she knows from books and her mom.

The coyote comes to her just after the accident. She is waiting on the curb outside the library for her mom to pick her up when the car hits her, and now everything is different. Now they are on the run – her dad is alive after all, her mom tells her; they’ve been hiding from him all these years and now she’s afraid that he’ll find them from the hospital records after Shelby’s accident.

But the coyote said there would be two lies, so what if this is one of them? And if this is a lie, then what is the truth?

They are running, and her mom is contradicting herself left, right and centre, and Shelby doesn’t know who her mom is anymore, or who she is, either. And when she sleeps, she slips into the Dreaming. But is this real too? The coyote is there in the Dreaming, a shape-shifter who tells her the world is going to end in eight days and the only way to stop it is if she can rescue the child who has been kidnapped by the crone. And so Shelby must navigate these two parallel worlds, figure out how she fits in to both of them and deal with the loss of both everything she knew before and the things she knows now.

There Will Be Lies is a very powerful and intriguing story. I figured out the truth pretty early on, though Nick Lake’s storytelling did make me question my theory through the twists and turns and lies that he threw out. The two worlds is an unusual – though far from unheard of – construct which brought an extra level of surreality and questioning to the book – is it called the Dreaming for a reason, or is it as real as the world we know? Or – what defines whether something is real? Because if something is happening in our heads, surely that still makes it a real experience for us, even if others don’t perceive it to be so?

It also makes me think about the nature of lies – how do we know our own truths? Those things that may take place in our heads may be considered to be real, but by that extension, can they also be considered to be true? We are all capable of lying to ourselves as well – I recently read Belzhar by Meg Wolitzer, which plays on this very same idea; the character in Belzhar has told herself something which feels true and real to her but which turns out to not be true and real in the context of the wider world.

So is the Dreaming real, or is it a metaphor for what’s happening to Shelby in the real world? Perhaps it can be both. Will the world really end if Shelby can’t rescue the child in time? How do we define ‘end’? The Dreaming also pulls on the mythology of the Child, the Maiden and the Crone: the triple goddess of wiccan and pagan beliefs, though I suspect from Lake’s story – with the inclusion of the coyote – that perhaps there is similar mythology in the Native American belief system as well. In There Will Be Lies, Shelby takes on the role of the Maiden in this myth, though my understanding of the original is that the three roles are interlinked and are, essentially one and the same simply at different stages. This makes Shelby as much the Child as the Maiden which, when you read the book, gives away a pretty big clue as to the truth Shelby is searching for. Though the coyote tells her she must kill the crone to rescue the child, here the crone is a metaphor for her mother, I think, rather than the third aspect of herself.

To save herself, Shelby needs to extinguish what she thinks she understands about her mother – or come to terms with the part of her mother that resides in her. If she doesn’t save the child, then she will not be able to accept the new terms of her life – and by accepting the new terms of her life, she is able to save the child. Sometimes, in order to make something new, you have to break apart what came before. So what goes around, comes around, and everything is interlinked.

But, though the metaphor and mythology of the story comes predominantly from the parallel world of the Dreaming, I did find that the compulsion to keep reading was generated by what is taking place in the solid world. There are obstacles and adrenaline and danger in the Dreaming, but all the metaphor weighs quite heavily and reading those parts of the story was more like walking through sand while the ‘solid world’ happenings were easier to engage with, like rushing down a fast river. Nevertheless, they all come together to form an intense, thoughtful and excellently written and excellently constructed book that certainly stands out from the crowd. Nick Lake’s writing swells with intelligence and diversity of characters.

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