The Lie by Helen Dunmore (Windmill Books)
by Patrick O’Connor
MANY writers have explored the horrors of the First World War, an event which had special significance in 2014, the centenary of the outbreak of the conflict.
And although Helen Dunmore’s novel is set in 1920, it focusses entirely on the dreadful mark left on the soul of the survivors.
On the face of it, Daniel Branwell is one of the lucky ones, returning to his native Cornwall free from scars and wounds.
But he is haunted by the loss of many of his comrades including his boyhood pal and commanding officer Frederick Dennis and his failure to save him from death.
Daniel discovers that his mother has died and he is homeless. An elderly neighbour allows him to build a shelter and grow vegetables on her land but soon she falls ill.
He cares for the woman to spare her the humiliation of dying in the poor house and when she dies he tells no-one, buries her in the garden and moves into her house.
There are plenty of flashbacks to show the development of Daniel’s friendship with Frederick and those are especially relevant as Frederick regularly appears as a ghost at the foot of Daniel’s bed ‘clogged in mud from head to foot’.
Daniel is then reunited with Frederick’s sister Felicia, now a war widow with a baby and they are both hampered by grief for the dead officer.
A tender, fragile connection unfolds between the two of them but slowly but slowly Daniel’s big lie in not revealing his neighbour’s death begins to catch up with him.