Hannah is not a normal child and her mother, Beth, is very much aware of that fact. But she has trouble convincing her husband, who insists that Hannah is fine and Beth is exaggerating her troublesome behavior. But Beth knows the true. Hannah hurts her little brother, displays no human compassion or remorse, and appears to Beth to delight both in being cruel and driving a wedge between her parents. Beth narrates the events that transpired in the mid-1980’s.
Meanwhile, Clara describes her 2017 relationship with Luke. They’ve only been living together a few months when Luke does not come home one night and appears to have gone missing without a trace. Clara leans on Luke’s best friend, Mac, for support. As the two of them search frantically for Luke, frighteningly dangerous events occur.
Luke’s family members never speak of his older sister, Emily, who left many years ago and has never been heard from again. Luke’s brother, Tom, behaves in ways Clara finds highly suspicious and Luke’s aging parents are distraught. As the days go by with no word from Luke, Clara becomes increasingly desperate to find him.
With Mac’s help, Clara undertakes her own investigation into Luke’s disappearance. She discovers disturbing details about Luke’s family, as well as Luke’s past behavior. Then a woman claiming to be Emily agrees to meet with Clara, but only so long as Clara promises to keep the meeting a secret from Luke’s family. Clara eagerly proceeds with the meeting, hopeful that Emily will provide clues to Luke’s whereabouts.
Clara discovers that looks are deceiving and Luke’s family, appearing so happy and perfect on the surface, might be harboring dark secrets. When she stumbles upon a connection to an odd young woman named Hannah, she learns that those closest to us often have the most to hide.
Author Camilla Way relates that the impetus for The Lies We Told was her desire to “write about a female psychopath who stalks and kidnaps a man. I thought it’d be interesting to turn the usual woman-as-victim dynamic on its head.” But the idea for the book took form following a “conversation with some fellow mothers about whether certain behavior in kids is innate or learned. We all make jokes about how this child’s ‘a little monster,’ or that one’s ‘a born diva,’ but I wondered what it would feel like for it to gradually dawn on you that your child is a genuine sociopath – for that instinctive, unconditional love to slowly change to fear then horror.”
Way employs dueling narrations from Beth and Clara that eventually reveal precisely what transpired between Luke’s parents and Hannah’s so many years ago. Beth longed for a child and was thrilled when Hannah arrived. But her joy was short-lived because by the time Hannah was five years old, Beth knew something was very wrong with her daughter. Beth desctibes her observations of Hannah’s behavior: “I’d look into Hannah’s beautiful big brown eyes and I’d see nothing there. Intelligence, yes — I never feared for her intellect — but rarely emotion. I never felt anything from her. Though I lavished love upon her, it was as though it couldn’t reach her, slipping and sliding across the surface of her like water over oilskin.” Research cements what instinct and her nursing background have already told her: Hannah suffers from a severe personality disorder.
Meanwhile, Clara’s own determination to learn Luke’s whereabouts leads to a present-day showdown during which the truth is finally revealed. Way utilizes the two women’s voices and viewpoints during the two different time periods to maximum effect. She keeps readers theorizing as to what actually transpired more than 30 years ago, why Emily ran away from her family, and just how far Hannah will go to exact revenge for perceived wrongs.
In The Lies We Told, every character harbors secrets and motivations to be duplicitous in their dealings with each other. Any of the characters could be responsible — in varying degrees — for what has happened to Luke. Including Luke himself. Clara is forced to face the fact that she entered into a relationship with Luke knowing very little about him. And when she sets out to learn about his past relationships with other women, she is not emotionally prepared for the truth. “Not an expert in these things, she had fallen too deeply, too quickly, entirely forgetting to keep a part of herself back, to put a life jacket on in case of emergency.” Luke harassed a young woman in college, but, typically, suffered no adverse consequences. “In the end the uni let him off with a warning. Typically, he got no comeback, apart from . . . a reputation for being a pest, but the general feeling was ‘naughty old Luke, boys will be boys’ sort of thing. He continued to swear blind that the girl was lying and he certainly had no trouble getting another girlfriend after that. Let’s be honest — it’s the sort of thing that happens all the time, just the sort of [behavior] women are expected to put up with, be flattered by, even.” Which provides context to the disturbing emails Clara discovers Luke has been receiving from an obviously dangerous woman.
Way deftly maintains the tension and stress throughout the book, right to the very last page. Near the end, two additional narrators emerge to compel the story’s jaw-dropping ending. Like Way’s 2016 thriller, Watching Edie, The Lies We Told is a fast-paced, first-rate psychological thrill ride that readers will not be able to put down until the very last shocking secret is revealed.
Excerpt from The Lies We Told
At first I mistook the severed head for something else. It wasn’t until I was very close that I realized it was Lucy’s. To begin with, I thought the splash of yellow against the white of my pillow was a discarded sock, a balled-up handkerchief perhaps. It was only when I drew nearer and saw the delicate crest of feathers, the tiny, silent beak, that I fully understood. And suddenly I understood so much more: everything in that moment became absolutely clear.
“Hannah?” I whispered. A floorboard creaked in the hall beyond my bedroom door. My scalp tightened. “Hannah”—a little louder now, yet with the same fearful tremor in my voice—“is that you?” No answer, but I felt her there, somewhere near; could feel her waiting, listening.
I didn’t want to touch my little bird’s head, could hardly bear to look at the thin brown line of congealed blood where it had been sliced clean from the body, or at the half-open, staring eyes. I wondered if she’d been alive or dead when it happened, and started to feel sick.
When I went to Hannah’s bedroom, she was standing by her window, looking down at the garden below. I said her name and she turned and regarded me, her beautiful dark eyes somber, just a trace of a smile on her lips. “Yes, Mummy?” she said. “What’s wrong?”
Excerpted from The Lies We Told by Camilla Way. Copyright © 2018. All rights reserved.