I’ve never read any Frances Hardinge before, which is odd – her books are huge critical successes and always seem to wrapped in a subtle darkness and a quiet, wry sense of humour that would be just my sort of thing. But I’ve just never got round to them, so I thought I’d start with The Lie Tree… and let’s just say that I’ll be picking up her backlist pretty soon.
The Lie Tree tells the story of Faith Sunderly and her family, headed by the eminent natural scientist and eternally stoic Reverend Sunderly, who are heading to the remote island of Vane, chased from mainland England by a scandal that has accused her father of faking fossil discoveries. Faith idolises her father, in a society where woman are never able to study sciences or be taken seriously in academia. She longs to win his approval, but she will only ever be the disappointment of not being a son, despite her natural curiosity and fierce intelligence. The rumours from the mainland have reached the island town of Vane though, and the family are treated with distrust and outright hatred by the islanders. Faith is sure that the accusations are false, but how can she prove it if she can never be taken as anything more than a silly, emotional woman? Then she learns of The Lie Tree – a strange botanical curiosity that feeds on whispered lies, and bears fruit that gives hidden truths when eaten. The wider a lie is believed, the bigger the tree will grow, and the more potent the fruit it can bare. Faith may not be able to fight the rumbles of her Father’s fakery in the open, but she certainly can use her hidden position afforded by her gender to create a web of lies to feed the tree and uncover the truth.
Layers and layers of The Lie Tree are beautifully woven, hinging off the complex plot and wonderfully diverse characters. Faith is beautiful in her flawed nature, so hopeful and positive, but as the plot develops, she becomes ruthlessly cunning, letting her natural intelligence burn through. I loved her absolutely, because of how often she made bad choices, or actively chose to do bad things because of her convictions. It was also absolutely heart breaking to see how quickly and easily she’s dismissed throughout the story because she’s a woman – reflecting the awful beliefs inherent in the society around her. The way her obsession builds and whirls chaotically is a reflection of her powerful nature, expertly hidden beneath a mask of demure ladylike composure. The characters around her are startlingly well rounded as well, The Reverend Sunderly being a stoic and composed man on the surface, but churning underneath with bitterness and obsession that rivals his daughter, and Faith’s mother being a phenomenally pragmatic, driven and cunning woman who has learned over years and years of being the invisible woman behind a well-respected man, how to use what society lets her have to her best advantage.
The plot of The Lie Tree is slow, but has an inevitable force that drives it forward. It spins and twists like a lazy autumn storm, dropping sudden plot falls and pulling the story around in all sorts of leaps and unexpected directions. It grows, much like the eponymous tree, with startlingly dark power creeping underneath every single sentence, and touches upon some dark and uncomfortable subjects based around the entrenched sexism and downright dismissal of woman as anything but inferior to men that were (and continue to be) so entrenched in Academia and Sciences (the idea that women have smaller skulls, and are therefore not as intelligent as men is sickening).
This was my first experience with Hardinge’s writing style, and it’s painfully brilliant and evocative and descriptive and ace. The way she describes the sea in particular is so wonderfully haunting and wild that I fell in love with her whole style of writing at once – I do have such a fondness for the sea. She uses metaphors in such a twistingly unique way that it makes the words crackle with potential and menace as the story unfolds.
The Lie Tree is a wonderfully dark tale of pain, anguish and revenge with a stunning tinge of magical realism that brings it into a historical-dream-like reality. I loved every second of it, as it whipped me into its tragic, powerful and desperate narrative.
Thanks for Reading, if you did.