Harvill Secker | 2017 (15 June) | 374p | Review copy | Buy the book
Isa is at home looking after her six-month-old baby daughter Freya when she receives a text message from Kate, a school friend that she hasn’t seen for years. ‘I need you’ it says. The message doesn’t just go to Isa but also to the two other members of their school clique – Fatima and Thea. There is a bond between these four women that lives on despite their very different lives and if Kate needs their help then the other three will rush to her. They could hardly do anything else. They share a terrible secret, a shared lie, and it looks as if it is about to be revealed.
Isa, Fatima and Thea hurry to Kate’s home in an old mill on the coast which is slowly sinking into the sea. The nearest village, Salten, as well as their old school, lie a few miles inland. It’s a beautiful and remote spot, vulnerable to the encroaching sea, shifting sands and stormy skies. It’s the sort of place where you can forget the rest of the world. But not for much longer. It’s pounding on Kate’s door.
The Lying Game focuses on the friendship between these four woman in a way that reminded me of the author’s earlier novel In a Dark, Dark Wood. As with that novel, the atmosphere of place and isolation and the danger that these things can hide is a strong force throughout. The mystery is a moody one. It rumbles on in the background and it affects the interaction of the four women with the villagers and, in Isa’s case in particular, with their families at home.
But the emphasis throughout is on our narrator, Isa, a woman who is consumed by her instinct to love and protect her baby. It drives everything about her. Isa is the only one to whom we become close, witnessing her family life and her marital grumbles. Thea, Fatima and Kate remain unknowable. But these are people who played the Lying Game at school. It makes it difficult for us to know the truth.
The mystery isn’t a big surprise when it unravels. It doesn’t have the intrigue and twists that I enjoyed so much in The Woman in Cabin 10. It feels very subservient to the focus, which is on the relationship between these four women. Yet, as mentioned, we only really get to know Isa. Apart from this, I had a couple of other issues with the novel – I couldn’t understand the reason for the great bond between these women, all these years after their one year together at school. I couldn’t feel a closeness between them and most of the characters are too skindeep. The other issue is that Isa’s complete focus on her baby dominates her character absolutely. It’s understandable but it isolates her from the dramatic movement of the novel. And, to be pernickity, there is also a continuity error involving Thea’s hair.
Yet, while I didn’t enjoy The Lying Game as much as I loved The Woman in Cabin 10, it is an extremely atmospheric and compelling read. I read most of it in one sitting. It hooked me. The setting is marvellous. I loved the descriptions of it, the walks across the marshes, the gradual decay of the mill. There is something about Ruth Ware’s writing that pulls me in – it is quite beautiful – and I’ll most definitely be there for her next novel.
The Woman in Cabin 10