“We Were Liars” by E. Lockhart

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So I have been a bit behind on my reading, and decided to spend some time catching up on all my kindle purchases (the Amazon app + @booksandquills video marathons on Youtube = bad for my bank account). One of the books I had waiting in the queue was We Were Liars; I didn’t know much about the novel, other than that the story was focused on a wealthy family, and all is not as it seems.

I started the book, and after the first couple of pages found myself wondering what on earth I was reading; I had a reaction similar to when Phoebe tried salt water taffy in Friends (The one with the birthing video):

“What the mother of crap is up with this stuff? Oh, God. Is it gum, is it food? What’s the deal?”

With all the hype surrounding this book I expected something very different. I took a minute, went back to the beginning of the chapter and gave it another chance.

The first chapter is very short, approximately 1.5 pages. The sentence structure that the author uses is quite unusual and changes frequently; some sentences are set out almost like poems, and others are very brief, almost staccato statements, which are fired at the reader in quick bursts.

“No one is an addict.

No one is a criminal.

No one is a failure.”

In this short introduction the sardonic voice of the narrator (17 year old Cadence Sinclair)  shines through, and you get the immediate impression that somerhing is not right with The Sinclairs. In the first paragraph the author conveys the desperation that is at the heart of the Sinclair family; you understand that the bright shiny veneer papering over the cracks of the family relationships is wearing thin from these few short phrases. It is a brilliant opening.

Sorry, I may be jumping ahead. So,… What to say about the book without giving anything away? We Were Liars doesn’t conform to one genre; it is a story of romance, family drama, mystery and some parts are very gothic. As mentioned above, the story is centred on the rich and privileged Sinclair family, and narrated by Cady. The family consists of the family patriarch Harris, his wife Tipper, their adult children Carrie, Bess, and Penny, and their children of various ages. It is quite difficult to get your head around how the smaller children/ teenagers are related as the narrative of the story is quite conversational, as if Cady is having a converse with an old friend who already knows the family. There is a family tree in the beginning of the book, but when you read a kindle book it starts you out in the first page of the actual story, so I didn’t figure this out until later, which is a shame, as it would have been useful. Every year, the whole extended family vacations together on a private family that they own. All of the 3 adult daughters are divorced, and the long term boyfriend of one of the daughters is not welcome. It is clear that the family relationships are strained.

Cady explains that she suffered a terrible injury in summer 15 ( Cady refers to years past in summers rather than her own age). The narrative goes back and forth between the current summer (summer 17) and previous years. Cady hasn’t been back to the island since her accident, and as she doesn’t really communicate with her extended family outside the time they spend together each summer, she is feeling isolated and out of the loop. Cady suffers from terrible migraines and memory loss as a result of the events of summer 15 and is desperate to see her family to put the pieces back together.

Within the family, Cady is especially close to her cousins Johnny and Mirren, and Johnny’s best friend Gat who has vacationed with the family every year since summer 8; the family calls this group of four the liars, the reason never being fully explained.  Cady is quite hurt that she has not heard from her friends since summer 15, despite sending them parcels and emailing them frequently, and is even more upset when she gets back on the island and they aren’t waiting with the rest of the family to greet her.  When she does see them they are acting quite out of character; they seem to be hiding things, lying to Cady and harbouring anger & resentment towards her. As Cady doesn’t remember most of summer 15 she is baffled by the liars behaviour and keeps questioning her family about what happened. The rest of the family have been told not to discuss these events with Cady on the advice of Cady’s doctor. Cady must remember on her own. Over the course of the summer, Cady reflects on previous years and tries to piece together what happened to her.

The narrative alternates between Cady’s voice and fairy tales that Cady creates as an analogy of how she sees her family; Cady’s grandfather is shown through these stories to be a controlling tyrant. The fact that the family is privileged and don’t really see or understand that the life they lead is very different to “normal” people’s is explored subtly throughout the story, especially in the interactions between Cady and Gat, who likens himself to Heathcliff in his attentions towards Cady. Cady also seems to be more aware of her family’s materialistic tendencies in summer 17, giving away almost all of her possessions one item at a time,saying that she doesn’t need them, however she doesn’t really question her motives. It seems that Cady is getting rid of all reminders of her life leading up to summer 15.

It is really difficult to discuss the themes of the book without giving anything away, all I can say is that Nothing is as it seems. The Sinclairs are keeping something from Cady, and Cady herself is an unreliable source; she has huge gaps in her memory and is taking a lot of medication. After the first 2 chapters I was hooked and powered through the book in 1 night. Read it! You will not regret it.

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