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We talk about getting away and seeing the world, but we never do.  We stay here making the same mistakes, over and over.  I’m a murderer and it’s not just my fault.  I can blame the Germans, and I can blame my parents, and I can blame my parents’ parents.  Don’t you see?  Once you know your History, it does explain everything.

It turns out I was a murderer before I was even born.

(from The Book of Lies, page 5)

The Book of Lies takes place on the island of Guernsey in 1985, with a teenage Cat Rozier recounting the past year, her friendship with Nic Prevost, and the lies and betrayal that resulted in Cat killing Nic.  Cat calls herself a murderer on the very first page of the book, blaming it on the complicated history of her family and of Guernsey, which was occupied by the Nazis from 1940 to 1945.

The Book of Lies certainly lives up to its title, but it is about much more than lies told to cover up secrets and even to cover up history.  Cat is grieving her father’s death when Nic, the quintessential mean girl, befriends her.  Cat’s mother devotes all of her time to keeping the family printing business afloat, and Cat obviously is in need of attention, which makes it so easy for her to fall in with the wrong crowd.  She begins partying, shoplifting, and drinking, but with one wrong move, she’s ostracized by Nic and things spiral out of control.

The novel alternates between chapters told from the first person viewpoint of Cat as she recounts the events that lead to Nic’s death and chapters that focus on Cat’s father, Emile, who devoted his life to the history of the Nazi occupation (during which he was only a baby) and rebuilding his family’s reputation.  These chapters are told in the form of transcripts of audio tapes made by his older brother, Charlie, who tries to make sense of the events that led to his and his father’s arrest by the Germans and his internment in a concentration camp, and letters to the editor by Emile, who took issue with the portrayal of the islanders during and after the Nazi occupation.  The truth about the Roziers is pieced together by Cat through documents found in her father’s study, and as with her story, nothing is as it appears.

Of course, I was drawn to this book for its World War II connection, but I ended up engrossed in both Cat’s and Charlie’s stories.  Cat was hard to like, but I think her brutally honest words, her need to come to terms with her father’s death, and all the confusion that goes along with being a teenager made her seem so vulnerable and won me over in the end.  I thought I’d be more interested in the story of the Nazi occupation of Guernsey, but the use of transcripts and letters and the fact that all the affected parties were dead and couldn’t speak for themselves made it difficult to connect with the characters.  Really, the only character who seems to have substance is Cat and maybe her friend and crush Michael, with whom she has some heart-to-heart discussions.  Nic, the other girls at school, and Cat’s mom are shown through Cat’s eyes, so it’s difficult to see them as anything other than mean (Nic) or disinterested (Cat’s mom).

Even so, The Book of Lies was a novel that I couldn’t put down.  Mary Horlock’s use of the two parallel stories in alternating chapters helped move things along quickly, and I didn’t expect the two stories to come together in the way they did.  Horlock does a wonderful job making the island of Guernsey come to life, with its ominous cliffs and history.  It’s such a small island, where everyone pretty much knows everyone else and history isn’t so easily forgotten.

Most of all, I enjoyed Horlock’s writing.  She got the voice of a troubled teenage girl just right, and she also does a brilliant job sprinkling the history of the Nazi occupation into a story that on the surface seems so far removed from the war.  The Book of Lies is an exciting novel that got me thinking about family history and secrets and how the same betrayals and mistakes are made time and again.    For the first time, I actually didn’t mind reading the thoughts of an unreliable narrator because trying to put the pieces of both stories together was part of the fun.  I turned the last page feeling quite satisfied, and that’s really all that matters.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for having me on the blog tour for The Book of Lies. To follow the tour, click here.

Disclosure: I received a copy of The Book of Lies from HarperCollins for review purposes. I am an IndieBound affiliate and an Amazon associate.

© 2011 Anna Horner of Diary of an Eccentric. All Rights Reserved. Please do not reproduce or republish content without permission.

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