- THE LIE TREE
- AUTHOR: FRANCES HARDINGE
- ILLUSTRATOR: CHRIS RIDDELL
- COSTA BOOK AWARD WINNER MMXV - FOR A GOOD REASON:
Victorian era, right as Darwinism is clashing with the Church and the creation account in Genesis.
Faith Sunderly (a maiden as clever and cold-blooded as a snake), her vicar father, her London-socialite-born-mother, and her sinistral little brother --whom their parents are trying to set right-- set sail --or rather relocate-- from their home shire in Kent to Vane, a small Channel island, ostensibly to take part in an excavation, since the Reverend is also an amateur paleontologist who has travelled a lot to tropical climates.
At first the locals raise an eyebrow at these strange mainlanders, and especially Faith, a spirited and dynamic young girl who questions organised religion (in spite of her father being a Protestant vicar), feels out of place. To add insult to injury, the real reason why the family left Kent --and the British mainland as a whole-- appears to be that the Reverend Sunderly got involved in a controversial religious scandal.
One-third across the novel, the vicar is found violently killed and his eldest daughter finds a sapling that breeds on lies (she's also been freeing little brother Howard's left arm from its stitched-onto-the-coat sleeve and encouraging his left-handedness). This titular plant bears a hallucinogenic fruit that Faith plans to use to find the one who killed her father.
However, revenge and gossip are not the best course of actions, and the little lies our "snake" tells before offering the people the "forbidden fruit" gradually snowball until more blood is shed in the collapsing local community and sinister strangers arrive... Lesbians coming out of the closet, revenge, a scientist's wife-assistant who is really the power behind her weak husband, and of course the snake and the fruit tree as a parallel to the Book of Genesis, transforming the island of Vane into the Garden of Eden and offering a feminist, Darwinist, queer, subversive Genesis narrative from the POV of the "serpent..."
The illustrations by Sir Christopher Riddle-of-the-Sphinx are the icing on this scrumptious fruit cake of historical fantasy, thriller, magical realism, twice-told tale, revenge drama... that I definitely recommend.
Published in Spain by Editorial Bambú, it costs about €13.
Hardinge gives us multiple female characters who do not fall silently into the roles expected of them – a natural scientist who has had to hide for decades behind a bumbling husband, a lesbian couple who must keep their relationship secret, Myrtle herself (Faith's mum), who is probably much more aware than her husband is of how to manage the unsaid rules of Victorian society, and of course Faith, the young girl who refuses to sit back meekly and not question her world."