This evening I was in a no good very bad mood, so I knew I had to read something that was engrossing, not too challenging, and able to hold my interest – which meant that Ruth Ware’s new novel, The Lying Game, was the perfect choice. I ploughed through the entire thing and now I feel a lot better, which means this book was basically excellent and has done the exact thing that all books should do: to take the reader out of their skin and to put them back in it at the end feeling a lot more whole and happy.
I really enjoyed Ruth Ware’s first two books, which I read in similar fashion last summer: while feeling rotten in the head and while being very sweaty in the middle of a heatwave. They did the same as The Lying Game in that they pulled me out of myself and took me away for a few blissful hours – except I think that The Lying Game is a much better written book than either of those two. It’s a very different sort of book too, I think – slower and knottier and more character driven. Ware is great at atmosphere and setting, but The Lying Game was the best of the three – the seaside town it’s set in is extremely real, as is the boarding school, as is Kate’s old rickety house, surrounded by an ever more encroaching moat. The setting contributed huge amounts to the story and to the atmosphere of it and was conveyed really successfully. I love that hazy dream world that some authors are able to conjure up that was popularised by the haziness of The Secret History. It’s like Erin Kelly’s The Poison Tree, Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects, Louise Candlish’s The Swimming Pool, of course The Virgin Suicides – there’s something dangerous and slightly malevolent about that slow, lazy, sticky heat, which I thought was conveyed really beautifully through the first part of this book. The way that Luc was described, for example – the gold and brown of him, it felt somewhat familiar but that didn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it. It all felt languorous and dangerous.
The story itself was great. I also love that tightly knit and almost hypnotic group of friends thing – it has been done before in fiction, again The Secret History and Tana French’s The Secret Place, also The Poison Tree, but it’s something that I personally love to read. That being suckered into a group and terrible things happening because of it thing is exactly My Kind Of Thing, that found family going terribly wrong vibe. The only thing was that I didn’t feel that the lying game went far enough, and I also didn’t know if I felt like it applied strongly enough to the actual plot. I wanted the internal story to be more connected to something that the protagonist, Isa, had done – it felt sometimes as though it was someone else’s story and she was just the person who was telling it, as though we were set up for something more terrible than what had actually happened. I felt as though I wanted the eventual conclusion to be more linked to their thoughtless lies, if that makes sense. But the conclusion that we got was still really excellent and there were some great and unforgettable images at the end, along with a twist that worked well. I liked all four women – Isa was a great protagonist even though I felt that her identity might have been tied too strongly to her role as a mother for me. Thea was fragile and less dangerous than she initially appeared, Kate was tough and vulnerable and full of secrets, and Fatima was probably my favourite – I loved the fact that she had her shit together but she was still under the spell of her old friends. I also liked the fact that she’s a Muslim and the way that her faith is described through the book – it’s the kind of thing that you don’t see much in fiction so I was really delighted to see it here.
I don’t know if I think this was great literature – it might not stick in my head forever and I don’t think it was the most original thing in the whole world. But it really, solidly did its job, it totally gripped me for the whole evening and made me want to read on and on. The descriptions of Freya were gorgeous, and I liked the way that each woman(/girl) was differentiated carefully from each other. There’s nothing I love to read about more than friendship between women, how fucked up it can be and how it can be the most important thing in the world when you’re younger and how the ties of it will stay with you forever, and how that sort of teenage loyalty can make you do really terrible things and keep its hold over you way into adulthood. This book was a great example of that and I think that was its main strength – the relationship between the four central characters was thoroughly believable to me. This book did exactly what it should have done – it made me forget the rest of my life for the evening and totally immersed me in its story. I’m definitely going to be buying Ruth Ware’s next book as soon as it comes out.