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The Lie Tree Hardcover – April 19, 2016
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From School Library Journal
"In 19th-century Britain, the study of natural history was reserved for gentlemen. Unlucky enough to be born female, science-minded Faith, the heroine of this dark and captivating period novel, can't hope to follow in her naturalist father's footsteps. Yet when those footsteps lead to his suspicious death, Faith turns her "weakness" into an advantage. Underestimated by everyone, from her father's colleagues to the servants to her own mother, she embarks on an investigation that propels her into the scandal that ruined her father's reputation and entices her to adopt his morally questionable research methods.
"The Lie Tree" shares the rich, cerebral atmosphere and feminist bent of Andrea Barrett's history-of-science-inspired fiction for adults, weaving it all together with gossamer fairy-tale thread. The book's title refers to a plant — Faith's father's secret discovery — that withers in the light and feeds off of lies. Faith believes that reason and logic must hold the explanation to the Lie Tree's puzzling attributes, since, for her, "'magic' was not an answer; it was an excuse to avoid looking for one." Nonetheless, she can't deny that when she whispers untruths into its leaves, things happen: Both the plant and Faith's covert power start to grow.
Hardinge's gorgeous descriptive language is charged with menace and meaning. Lying in bed one night, Faith imagines "her lie spreading silently like dark green smoke, filling the air around the house like a haze, spilling from the mouths of those who whispered and wondered and feared … soaking like mist into waiting leaves, seeping like sap down gnarled slender stems, and forcing itself out into a small, white spearhead of a bud." "The Lie Tree" is a murder mystery that dazzles at every level, shimmering all the more brightly the deeper down into it you go."
"Mystery, magic, religion, and feminism swirl together in Hardinge's latest heady concoction... Hardinge creates a fierce, unlikable heroine navigating a rapidly changing world and does it all with consummate skill and pitch-perfect prose, drawing readers into Faith's world and onto her side and ultimately saying quite a lot about the world. Thematically rich, stylistically impressive, absolutely unforgettable."
"Hardinge, who can turn a phrase like no other, melds a haunting historical mystery with a sharp observation on the dangers of suppressing the thirst for knowledge, and leaves readers to wonder where science ends and fantasy begins... Smart, feminist, and shadowy, Hardinge’s talents are on full display here."
"Hardinge’s characteristically rich writing is on full display—alternately excoriating, haunting, and darkly funny—and the novel also features complex, many-sided characters and a clear-eyed examination of the deep sexism of the period, which trapped even the most intelligent women in roles as restrictive as their corsets."
"There is an effortless beauty to Hardinge’s writing, which ranges from frank to profound. Though layered, the plot refuses to sag, driven as it is by mystery, taut atmosphere, complex characters, and Faith’s insatiable curiosity... It is a book in which no details are wasted and each chapter brings a new surprise. Readers of historical fiction, mystery, and fantasy will all be captivated by this wonderfully crafted novel and the many secrets hidden within its pages."
“The elements of the mystery are masterfully keyed to the concerns of the Victorian time period, and its unfolding is handled with a dexterity that never loses sight of the gender problem; the book also directs its light onto matters of faith and doubt, and the issue of lies and truth in the pursuit of science. The excitement and danger, coupled with Faith’s intrepid though morally flawed pursuit of justice, call to mind Hardinge’s Fly by Night (BCCB 9/06); give this to readers unafraid to think disquieting thoughts as they race through a breathtaking, action-packed adventure.”
"Everything in this audacious novel is on the cusp or in limbo, setting up delicious tensions and thematic riches. The time is nineteenth-century England just after Darwin’s theory of evolution has thrown the scientific world into turmoil; the setting is the fictional island of Vane, between land and sea; the main character is a fourteen-year-old girl caught between society’s expectations and her fierce desire to be a scientist... Hardinge maintains masterful control of the whole complex construct: everything from the sentence level on up to the larger philosophical and political questions. A stunner."
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Her writing, as ever, is brilliant - it's full and rich and incredibly beautiful. I liked the main character, Faith. She's a girl in an oppressive society who finds ways to battle with her inner sense of right and wrong and doggedly solves the mystery. I found the whole book to be a page turner -- I had a hard time putting it down. The mystery was well done, and the somewhat gothic, creepy, Victorian setting was perfect for Hardinge's particular flavor of tale spinning. Post mortem photos! Phrenology! Patriarchy! Burgeoning Natural Science study by gentlemen scientists!
I did guess the 'whodunit' before the end because I remembered a key clue, but that didn't detract from the overall story. I found the characters complex and very interesting. The ending was satisfying, and the relationship between mother and daughter more promising than it had been at first. I do wish we had Howard, Faith's little brother, in the closing scene. He must be there, but he is notably absent from the description. I wonder if this was intentional, but I loved his character so much, I missed him at the end.
I really enjoyed it overall, and anxiously await whatever Hardinge delivers up next.
It was the 2016 Costa Book of the Year
The protagonist Faith, 14 and stuck in a ‘training corset’, grapples with heady topics: societal conventions and limitations on women, the discovery of the flaws in her father’s character, the clash of science and religion in Victorian England, and the mob mentality of people. Big ideas, fresh characters, and lovely writing made this one deliciously memorable.
I wasn't sure what to expect, but I thought the main character, Faith, ,was extremely interesting an relatable. I loved the issues of being a female and a child during the time period, and the complicated relationships between family. I thought Faith's complex feelings towards her mother and father were terribly realistic, and I really enjoyed seeing those evolve over the course of the novel. The mystery of the book was super interesting, especially with the mystical addition of the lie tree. So awful and amazing watching Faith spin lies in the name of vengeance, seeing those lies take on a life of their own, and watching Faith come to terms with the repercussions of what she'd set in motion.
Overall a well-written and gripping novel that kept me interested throughout. Definitely plan on looking into more of Hardinge's work.
Faith is a rounded character, neither good nor bad, and very believable.
I look forward to more from Ms. Hardinge.
4/5 stars - would read again.
This book covers the still budding world of science in a world where women still have no place other than incubating future population but must fight like men in order to stay afloat in the madness that may find them.
Some of the ideas in this story are a bit mediocre at best but I genuinely adore this author’s way of writing. I preferred A Skinful of Shadows but The Lie Tree was an interesting enough tale to pass the time.
I don’t think the tree itself was an extraordinarily thought out idea, but it was one to play with.
Overall, a good read.
The Lie Tree is about the damage lies can do to others and to ourselves. ... like "I am not good enough"
The last line in the book is amazing - and I don;t believe it gives the story away
The mother asks Faith what she wants. Faith answers "I want to be a bad example."
The mother answers, "Well, my dear, I think you have made an excellent start."
Top international reviews
It didn't take too many chapters for me to get sucked into this narrative and fall in love with Faith, our protagonist. This young teenage girl lives in misogynistic Victorian England where, as a girl, she is not expected to thirst for knowledge. Faith is somewhat neglected by her mother, ignored by her father and nursemaid to her younger brother. But she is a feisty, loveable character, whose constant eavesdropping just made her even more endearing to me.
The novel opens with the family being uprooted from their home in Kent to the small island of Vale, with the journey littered with hints that her father's lost reputation is to blame. It isn't long before the family become outcasts, and whilst I felt for Faith, it was quite satisfying to see her obnoxious mother mistreated.
Faith's world is then turned upside down when her father is found dead (this isn't a spoiler, it's included in the book's blurb). Despite a tumultuous relationship with him, she is intent on uncovering the truth behind his death. Hardinge presents the reader with a resilient protagonist, refreshing for the book's Victorian setting, and after rifling through her father's notebooks she learns of a mysterious tree that could help her do just that. Faith begins a mission of spreading lies in order to learn the secrets from the tree. In all honesty, the book was not what I expected at all. I suppose with mention of a 'strange tree', I anticipated a book with a slight fantasy feel, but there is none of that. If anything, I found myself simlpy believing the tree was real.
The description of the lie tree is beautiful, as is Hardinge's writing throughout the novel. She has an almost lyrical quality to her writing that just makes the story flow. It's easy to understand why this novel has proven popular with both teens and adults and why it's both won and been nominated for awards.
Hardinge had a fantastic grasp on Victorian Society for this story. In particular, she set her tale just after the release of Darwin's 'On The Origin Of Species', which set religious belief and superstition into a chaotic war against science and reasoning in the mind of every person. Faith's Father was the epitome of this, being both a scientific explorer and a man of the Church. Oh yes, the world-building was probably the best part of this book. I loved the complex characters here too, particularly the women in the book because in their own way they were so POWERFUL despite having no power thanks to the men in their lives. Hardinge wrote in her usual gorgeous, evocative fashion and this is no doubt her favourite book of mine so far.
Just like in 'Cuckoo Song', the pace was a little slow at times and it gave some areas of the book a disjointed feel. I would have liked more consistency in that area. However this time, the ending didn't feel anti-climactic at all and I enjoyed watching all of the loose ends be addressed at the end and understanding finally why certain plot elements had been introduced. Hardinge did a fantastic job with a fresh, new idea and I've decided these kinds of books are my favourite: Victorian-set, strong female characters restricted by their gender and a touch of the magical and mysterious.
Hardinge explores an impressive number of issues in this well-woven story; from the tussle between good and evil, the class disparity and the place of intelligent and underrated women in Victorian society, capricious human nature, the supernatural and the limits of science, to the contradictory virtue and oppression of familial loyalty. Faith is forced to go through a rite of passage into early adulthood suddenly when tragedy befalls her family and she finds herself battling forces bigger than she could ever grapple with on her own, and finds out that things and people aren’t always what they appear to be. She finds a sinister ally that is organic, non-human, and possibly phantasmagorical, stumbling across deadly secrets that threaten her psychologically, morally and mortally.
Hardinge has created a world that is both familiar and strange at the same time, while enriching the genre of children’s fantasy.
As a woman in STEM it was entirely within my nature to feel sympathetic to Faith as she desperately wanted to show her father and other scientists that she is bright and capable in the sciences, but was constantly either ignored or harshly rebuffed by a society that expects its girls to be pretty, pious and humble to the point of invisibility. Her frustration burned strongly with recognition for me.
The mystery of why Faith's family has arrived on the small island of Vane and then the even deeper mystery of what happens to her father whilst they are there was clever and engrossing. The very fact that some significant clues were overlooked for the same reason Faith rails at herself being overlooked was a bittersweet irony.
Wrapped around all of this was the suffocating nature of Victorian society and family values; how everyone is expected to behave all the time, the women especially. It added a luscious extra layer of antagonism to the Sunderly family's experiences.
Can't recommend it highly enough.
The storyline begins well enough with a young daughter of a clergy is sent to live an isolated existence in a remote area. Several leads present themselves as potential trouble spots early on, but are missed later in the body and conclusion of the story. Ok red herrings then.
So characters eventually disgrace themselves and prove to be thoroughly immoral. Yes you are hoodwinked into who the culprits really are and brought to realise how dangerously competitive the fossil hunting world has previously been. That all said, moral tales are divided here, so this book is not for the younger readers without a reading group, who could discuss the included issues. Pity could be drawn for one character, until you later realise upon reading the conclusive passages, that the entire story has been a large scale deceit, bringing the entire series of events full circle. Cleverly written with early misleading the reader with full understanding gained only when you close the end page.
I am not sure about recommending this as a younger read as discussion is needed to clarify events and motives within the story. What was particularly hard with the crop of books in the Carnegie list was the persistent theme of lies and untruths, but then, this could be an underlying necessity within current children's literature.
We start out with the Sunderley family arriving on a small island, ostensibly so that the father can assist with a dig, but really because he's recently been discovered in a huge lie and his reputation is falling apart in mainland England. Faith, our entertaining protagonist, is his daughter. She's on the cusp of womanhood and people keep getting annoyed about her asking intelligent questions and stuff. As we women must, she learns to couch these questions in ways that make the poor menfolk with their fragile egos feel better about themselves, while giving plenty of leeway to assume that Faith is comfortably nestling in as one of the "weaker sex".
Then she goes on to tackle all the mysteries kicking about the island, and she does so in an intelligent and bold manner. I love her. She's also a budding natural scientist. This is the second book I've read this year about a Victorian young lady grappling to study the subject and I need moreeeeeee.
The surrounding cast have secrets and lies of their own and I feel like they all have secrets lurking beneath the surface, and entire lives that could be plundered for stories. They're all very well done.
The plot is fantastic. I really had problems putting this book down right from the start because I was enjoying Faith's voice so much, and I felt her curiosity about everything burning into me. There are twists and turns, one of which genuinely made me back off from my Kindle screen in shock (I was too cosy to gasp).
The writing is also a delight in this book. Hardinge's descriptions are just spot on, using just the right unexpected verb to convey exactly what's going on. It's clever, accurate, and doesn't stray into being florid: exactly my kind of prose.
I read Hardinge's first book many years ago and was left feeling mildly confused and unsure on my feeling about the book, but The Lie Tree makes me want to unearth all her other books and figure out how she improved from baffling me to awing me with her work.
If you like spectacular writing, a tight plot, weird Victorian customs relating to death, or lady scientists, you should definitely read this book right now.
I enjoyed the atmospheric descriptions on entering this book – “The boat moved with a nauseous, relentless rhythm, like someone chewing on a rotten tooth. The islands just visible through the mist also looked like teeth…” suitably setting the tone for the luscious language throughout and the imagery of bones foreshadowed that which was to be a central topic in the story. We are introduced to Faith, the MC and her father, mother and brother. In terms of action however, not much occurs and we get a lot of backstory (intriguing – why have the family had to leave their home behind, what are these rumours that are circulating about the Reverend, Faith’s father?) Nonetheless, the beginning third of the book is a slow burn. In other words – entry takes a while. If you’ve got the time – and the breath to spend on it – fine. But if you’re in a hurry, maybe choose a different time to read this one.
The depth in this book comes from the conflict within Faith’s father and the other learned men of his generation; torn between what scripture has taught them of the world and what scientific enquiry proves. This debate is built upon throughout the book and darkens as the story explores the lengths people are willing to go to in order to prove their beliefs.
Some of my favourite quotes: “The sea licked the flesh off shipwrecks, leaving the bare wooden bones in the lightless deep. Its mermaids were green-skinned and squid-eyed with long hooked fingers and breath that smelt of old fish.”
“It was a house of the dead now. All the curtains were drawn. Dark cloth was draped over every mirror, like a dull lid drooped over every eye.”
There’s no doubt it’s a slow burner. More than that, I’d say that the best part in the novel for me was when Faith discovers her father’s true secret. The fact that the events of the second half of the book don’t live up to this discovery in the middle meant the second half lagged for me. I’m not saying that I wasn’t intrigued by the rest of the story, but it didn’t live up to the idea at the heart of the novel. I still enjoyed it and would recommend it.
Hardinge writes with a great deal of skill and consistency, especially towards the beginning of the story.
You may notice I have given only four stars, and this is due to the fact that I feel far too much has been crammed into the end of the book, and while some characters showed a new side of themselves, the wide majority were neglected, along with her usual stylised prose, in favour of action and chases.
What I liked about the book was the fact that the story progressed slowly, each detail was attended to by Hardinge in her own wonderfully unique way, but then the whole feel of the book suddenly changed; her distinctive personal voice was there, but not as it had been in the rest of the book, and her characterisation and prose suffered as a result.
Due to the slow pace of the story, the reader feels a real connection with Faith, the main character, but as the story ploughs for the finish line, I, at least, felt left behind.
However, please do not let my cynicism prevent you from purchasing this book, as I enjoyed it a great deal, and think despite a few small issues, it is well worth the sum I paid for it.
Hats off to you, Hardinge, for an excellent, embroiling read, with a good pro-female message.
Frances Hardinge sets us on an island, immediately painted as bleak and an escape for Faith’s father. It’s the kind of place where everyone knows everyone else’s business, and where the good Reverend decides to escape after a scandal has rocked his life’s work back in mainland England.
The plot is totally gripping, with a host of macabre characters with their own motivations and machinations, participating in a sweeping whodunit. Alongside this, we also have the mystery of Faith’s father’s secretive new scientific endeavours, involving a most intriguing tree. Hardinge swashbuckles her way through bizarre Victorian superstitions and hits hard at gender stereotypes and downright female oppression.
The Lie Tree is at times bleak, but is a great read in terms of mystery, history, philosophy and while acting as a perfect snapshot of an educated population at a very specific moment in time, it manages to be relevant to today’s increasingly paranoid and still heavily patriarchal society.
Faith is interesting; she’s hard-headed and also plain nasty at times, but always sympathetic. She’s very relatable in many ways; she has faults, but we always understand her actions, and it’s interesting to see her grow and change. It’s interesting to see her world through her eyes as well. Faith hero-worships her father, has a distrust of her mother, adores her brother despite finding him annoying. But we also see them as the story progresses, and we see more of their motives and character – Faith’s mother in particular has more layers, and is possibly more interesting for being an unsympathetic character: I’m reminded quite a lot of the girl’s mother in Pride & Prejudice…
The plot is excellent, mystery and danger and gossip, all wound into the island society. The community, the gossip and the sniping and the intrigue, all play wonderfully into Faith’s plans. The tree itself is fascinating, and doesn’t seem out of place despite its origins. The ending is perfect – I didn’t suspect whodunnit until it was revealed!
So, overall: probably not one I’d re-read, but one I’d love to have for the bookshelves, and one that’s gone on the list for when my cousins need a new book!
And let me tell you, the hype is well deserved. The eerie mystery of the lie tree; the bleak and claustrophobic island of Vane; Faith’s dysfunctional family. The book had quite a dark tone to it, but it wasn’t sombre. Faith didn’t wallow in her own sorrows, but she wasn’t immune to her emotions either.
She’s maybe a little meek at the beginning, but you can see she has the potential to grow, anger and intelligence carefully concealed beneath the image of the dutiful daughter. When her father dies of a rumoured suicide, Faith’s family is disgraced. The islanders shun them, servants spread malicious gossip, and Faith’s mother seems more concerned with her funeral dress than anything else. The death of her father is just enough to tip Faith over the edge, to reveal the bright spark beneath. And wow, I was really impressed with Faith once she got going.
She’s smart, calculating, even malicious when she needs to be. But you never hate her for it; she’s only mean when others are mean to her. She gives as good as she gets, especially when it comes to her reluctant ally Paul Clay. I loved their dynamic, their retorts. Faith really is a strong heroine, determined to set things right at any cost. She battles against the patriarchal forces trying to keep her from her passion for the natural sciences, even if it means playing the dull-witted daughter to get her way. I really enjoyed Faith as a character and many YA novelists could take some tips from Hardinge on how to craft a female protagonist that is actually strong and witty instead of being argumentative and selfish. She’s not rude for the sake of it, in a bid to seem funny or independent; she uses words to her tactical advantage, but is still ultimately compassionate, a caring sister to her little brother Howard.
The mystery is also one that keeps you guessing. Faith believes her father’s death is in fact a murder, and I had my suspicions from the beginning. They proved to be true, but I was never really sure; Hardinge definitely kept me guessing. All her characters are well-rounded and interesting, the roles they play in the Reverend’s murder tantalisingly ambiguous.
The book was a neat little package. Strong lead, unpredictable mystery, believable fantastical moments. If you haven’t already picked up a copy then I really suggest you do; you won’t regret it.