Book Review: White Lies by Lynn Michell

Book - White Lies by Lynn MitchellI actually won a copy of this book on Twitter by explaining why I preferred a different cover – one which was white (to go with the title ‘White Lies’) featuring an image of a young girl (see below). The novel begins in the present, as Eve patiently types up her father’s memoirs, whilst also reflecting on her own childhood memories of living through the Mau Mau uprising in Kenya, in the 1950s. We soon begin to realise that there is something left unsaid, something that Eve and her sister never knew about…   

The narrative moves between Eve’s experience in the present day, and her father’s memories of Nairobi, but we also hear her mother’s side of the story (in the form of a diary) – a very different picture of what life was like for a wife and mother in the 1950s. The writing style is addictive – you keep on turning the pages, wanting to find out what happened next. We spend most of the time hearing alternately from David (Eve’s father) and Mary (her mother) as they meet and marry, and then as the Second World War tears them apart for several years, before they attempt to settle down and have a family, eventually choosing to escape domesticity by taking a posting in Kenya.

white lies alt version of cover

The alternative cover

The story centres around Mary’s love affair with her husband’s friend (Harry), an intelligence officer who seems to be far more aware of Kenya’s grievances than anyone else. Whilst David is proud to be able to provide servants for his wife so that she needn’t do any domestic chores, Mary herself feels awkward about it, all too aware of the inequalities around her.

As the book draws to its conclusion, there is a sense of something momentous happening – something that will change everything. Eve’s father finds it more and more difficult to talk about, but eventually reveals something that happened to Mary, which Eve never knew. We then hear Mary’s version of events, concluding with a dramatic revelation (which took me completely by surprise).

The characters are believable and the three narratives are woven together well. It’s also interesting to see events from the perspective of the two young sisters – Eve and Clara.

I really enjoyed this book, but I finished it feeling a little cheated, as there was so much more that could have been said. It seemed strange that we didn’t hear much of Eve’s side of the story – she never reveals her own feelings, as she begins to realise that her parents’ stories are vastly different, and when she discovers that her mother was having an affair. I liked her as a character, and feel that perhaps the book would have benefitted by ending with her own story, as she comes to terms with the truth.

I can see why the title was chosen, as the events in Kenya are centred around the seemingly ‘peaceful’ colonial rule of white men over the native population, and the whole plot centres around the notion of lies – small lies that lead to bigger ones, that eventually cover up whole events and change people’s lives forever.

I can also see why this cover was chosen – the red and black gives an impression of Kenya, together with the tribesmen, the tree and the woman wearing a head-covering. Perhaps if the title was different (something which referred to Kenya or Nairobi) then it would make more sense. It’s hard to identify exactly what aspects of a book cover work well, but I can certainly vouch for the fact that book covers have a significant impact on my decision to read a book. It probably depends a lot on the genre too, but (whatever the cover) I would certainly recommend this book – it’s a fascinating story and a gripping read.

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