25 thoughts on “THE LIE TREE – Frances Hardinge


    “All knowledge — any knowledge — called to Faith, and there was a delicious pleasure in stealing the unseen.”

    I do not intend to continue itemising the plot while dreamcatching this book, but this is possibly, in such a few judicious pages, the most comprehensively plot-evocative opening I have ever encountered, picked out succinctly but semi-rhapsodically, with its setting, on their boat’s vivid rite of passage, the characters of the 14 year old Faith, her younger brother, her feisty mother and priestly father, and uncle, including her father’s knack with “clever fossils” and, under the cloud of rumours, the cause of this their escape from such rumours or a scientific expedition or an island holiday away from Kent – or all three. Faith indeed relishes rumours and eavesdropping, it seems, but we simply know Faith is nicer than that implies.
    I also like the way ‘according the whims’ has no need ‘to’.
    The craft of a story’s beginnings to die for.
    In a style to live for.


    “‘I have an umbrella,’ she said quickly, ‘and I was hoping for some fresh air.’ The little lie left her with a scrap of dignity.”

    I feel comfortable inside this book, reliving my 1950s childhood reading of the Railway Children, The Secret Garden, even The Famous Five. Yet, there is a grown-up edge of motives and moods possibly beyond those books, but all the trappings of an old-fashioned book, here on Vane, part presumably of the Channel Islands.
    Some sense of transgression, as yet unproved, the seesaw that is Faith, the Folly that is her father, the distance of Miles… The officious Myrtle, the pesky brother Howard, the servants in this wild place and its house. We are building an important gestalt from the trivia of ‘miscellaneous cuttings’… With the undercurrent of the Sunderly boys who never even grew this far into the story. Unlike the father’s nurtured ‘plant’ now devoted to the Folly’s shelter.
    Speech scanned for rhythm as an addition to words’ literal meaning in this littoral place.
    Her clothes are tyrants … traitors, too. Storms as bellowing cattle.


    “But it seemed that science had weighed her, labelled her and found her wanting.”

    …weighed, as Faith is, with Howard, upon the thick hawling-chain that snapped too easily. Constricted, too, by adult corsets when the looser ones of her residual childhood, against her better judgement, might have allowed the stays to release tension between the Bible against Darwin, between the vain social pecking-order even here on outlandish Vane against Myrtle’s unconscious attempt to stem the flow of scandal with her own presumptuous view of where she should stand upon that ladder, and another constriction of skulls, male versus female, genders like the corsets themselves. And her father’s nephilistic science against those who try to release fossils back to life from the ancient constrictions of Creation’s false triangulations of time. Dreamcatching the mores of then against now, literature against popular fiction, children’s lit against the grown up coffee cups of our own pecking-orders today…


    “‘Father?’ Her own voice sounded odd, as if a faint down of sighs clung to it.”

    Gin-traps and involuntary collusions, snubs and secrets, glimpses off-stage or off-colour and photos of those posed after death – this book certainly knows how to haunt the reader as well as haunting Faith herself, Faith who is growing into someone like the reader, a reader, such as myself, a reader of the text’s runes that describe Faith’s clandestine love of what is hidden in that very text. Faith and Father, Father and Faith. All simply, but magically couched.


    “But in her head, God had her father’s face.”

    A million messages in that sentence.
    The tension of the earlier hawling-chain continues to the mooring-rope of a boat used to drag it towards heavy seas, the tension between a snub becoming a smudge, a gin-trap becoming a jagged rock, a shameful guilt becoming an honourable confession, an innate cleverness becoming confused submission, a need to conceal truth needing a sort of cleverness in itself to make one worthy of one’s God, a Faith in One’s Father.
    Faith’s character builds adeptly as does the narrative power outdoing its own strains in landing on some shore of understanding. The Island of Adventure. A depth charge of mixed motive.


    “What did it matter how anything looked, ever again?”

    Another reference to alibi and a snake consigned as false decoy of what it is silently asked to hide, symbol of the horseshoe that will resonate darkly in the reader’s mind, and the ceremonial stopping of clocks, as their own hawling-chains are to be broken, with the Earth off its tether. Remember those dead people posed in photographs?

    All these images and Faith unfaithful to herself when landing somewhere is tantamount to being found elsewhere. This is disarmingly strong stuff for a 14 year old girl, ever balancing means against ends, and accretively compromising parts of herself in the process. And now look at what has happened. One of us readers should have warned her, as it now too late, because to warn her would become a spoiler not a mender, I guess. Filters, like collusions, can work both ways.

  7. CHAPTERS 13 & 14

    “Her emotions were so large and strange that they seemed to be something outside her, vast cloud patterns roiling and colliding above…”

    The sense of death, but which Sunderlys have been sundered past and present, which ‘death house’ reflected in which mirror: the ghosts of you or them, or another ‘death house” recently dreamcaught here? Meanwhile, social niceties become social nasties, whatever the respect due to the photograph of the posed dead and the postured living – or the subsequent disposal of whom to whatever consecration that any ground or plot can muster, be it felo de se beneath cliff or trip within dell. All lies fated to hide other lies. None of us can every stop lying in state or in denial. And the mirror reveals not the dead but the feisty faith of the living. This book has shed the garb of the Secret Garden to become some bitter Middlemarch.

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    CHAPTER 15

    “It was like learning that God had ceased to believe in Himself.”

    We readers together reach the nub of lies and secrets in this chapter, almost as if the book starts to lose its soul alongside Faith’s own soul upon viewing her Father through his words she reads on paper as we read them on paper, too. She has spurned the knocking Howard, her young brother, a visitor from Porlock, but she does not fall into that pit of confusion….But falls instead into her own temptation to follow those secrets and lies to their hub. Madness as faith?
    What was earlier in the folly and now in the sea cave, we now know is this book’s eponym. This book is perhaps its own lie tree, like all fiction is a lie. But, ironically, this one is a lie about a lie and therefore a truth, I guess. A falsified science (science as knowledge literally or represented by a fossil) as the only path to that truth. Like John Fowles, A.S. Byatt et al. (Like those plants, too, in that incredible story by Eric Schaller about Dr Jacob.)

  9. CHAPTERS 16 & 17

    “The Wise Man was a Chinaman, with a limpet-shaped hat…”

    Well, I didn’t know the Wise Man was going to turn up till now! Hawling strings, as it were behind a toy theatre for Howard, after pulling a lie from the air to plant a ghost for others to ‘see’, then pulling together all teasing leitmotifs like writing the novel itself, an author as a sort of faith-giver, to create here a feisty 14 year-old girl heroine who is not only mean but meaningful, despite those times being a man’s world. Her cutting, too, the pulling-strings for room bell-pulls to work their own magic of snowballing mendacity. Not-noises and soul-bruises. Plus a harkening back to that erstwhile hawling-chain snapping at the start.
    There are intractable connections and meanings here enough to tease even seasoned readers, let alone young adult ones.

  10. CHAPTERS 18 & 19

    “She was intensely aware of Paul’s otherness, as if they were warriors from rival tribes meeting in the hinterlands.”

    An unconscious awareness of a Romeo and Juliet syndrome divided each from each not by the poison — but by the strangling — of a hawling-snake. By the strangling of truth, too.
    Instincts prevail, as those characters investigating deaths (or cutting locks as a dare) create the pattern to which all the others characters dance.
    Once earlier upon the edge of the pit that was Howard, Faith now feints askance the coroner’s dance upon another, less figurative, edge of land.
    Start reading the exciting novels, Faith, I urge, for preparation for being IN one. A lie is a lie is a lie…

  11. CHAPTER 20

    “How could secrets be contained within a fruit, and how could knowledge be eaten?”

    Is there some clue in this book’s earlier Bible versus Darwin leitmotif?
    This chapter, in hindsight, I guess, will be seen as seminal, in more than one resonance of that word. The laying of the ‘ghost’ lie by Faith taking hold, or the lying ghosts laying low? The lie or hawling tree become a yieldingtree, with Faith emulating Eve of yore? The resultant secret from the lie, a fructifying of what makes Miles so distant, paper-thin as the paper he’s writ upon? This is a major theme and variations upon Pilgrim’s Progress or Fowles’ Nemo.
    This is astonishing material. The ‘creeper-like tendrils’ in tune with the many threads, bell-pulls etc. from a hawling thread, plus an impossible ‘symbiote’,

    “…everything and everyone in a sort of invisible spirit soup,…”

    Including all fictions as well as truths?

  12. CHAPTERS 21 & 22

    “When she hauled herself to her feet, the cavern danced ring-a-roses for a moment.”

    There is so much going on here, one wonders if Children’s Mystery or even an anachronous Middlemarch are adequate markers for its potential readership. This book is indeed a Victorian curio of strange goings-on like phrenology, a measured skull called Faith’s, a conspiracy, a John Cowper Powys mysticism, a spontaneous confusion of Mr Nemo or a combustion’s Krook, a scientific machination of Fowles or Byatt – as Faith concocts a new ‘lie’ for the tree that she then sets about underpinning with fake evidence. A bit like novel writing? Which brings us back to the Victorian ‘game’ of scientific rivalries. And Howard’s toy theatre is the pit she feared, even though she herself created many of its fabrications of sock-puppet fantasy. I wonder if Hardinge worries about her own word-theatre of feint and prestidigitation…?
    The puppeteer of ghosts, Not knowing who to trust or not to trust. “…like worms in a bun.”

    “Zeal was like gas, most dangerous when you could not see it.”

  13. CHAPTERS 23, 24 & 25

    “Both men stared at it with pantomimish solemnity.”

    Faith’s sketching the interstices of the excavations – as well as the plot within which she makes these very sketches to ease the photographic duties – is aligned with her self-justified (somehow justified in my own eyes, too) machinations of the lies she has set to burn like a brushfire. As in writing fiction itself, she ‘infects with an idea’. That is what fiction is about. No qualms about lying being an important quality of imagination and brainstorming, I guess. (Lying even to oneself.) The planting of a ghost or a treasure to stir the traces. To survey the triangulations of gridded truth and fiction by “‘datum-line’ strings”. The Faith in being good at this, and getting better. Making an audit trail through complexity towards a constructive denouement… “Cranking up the mining-basket” that I call ‘hawling’. Transcending, by visionary means, the monsters of memory. Alongside the interpersonal politics of characters growing…
    “…molten words, untethered sounds.”

  14. CHAPTERS 26 & 27

    “The stars blazed with cold patience.”

    And the text itself seethes with hot joints between the ‘objective correlatives’, rats and dinosaurs, like Othello’s goats and monkeys? The weakening of links and the strengthening of links in the hawling out the teeth of lies and setting a lock of hares or hairs running to bait not greyhounds for trophies but rats for illicit treasure – and the inchoate men later crowding in around her, cornering their own rat that is Faith? We should perhaps have no illusions about HER, although I can’t believe that someone looking like this author at a literary award ceremony could possibly find it in herself to create a major female character anywhere short of having an ultimate heroine status! But I mean that ironically, having been a believer in the Intentional Fallacy since the 1960s. It’s as if the text itself is a photograph or palimpsest, and someone else’s head has been placed deftly upon Faith’s shoulders, at least for a nonce.
    Sometimes even my own daughter has acted crazy. But always it fitted some greater plan.

  15. CHAPTER 28

    “He is hauling Miss Hunter from the jaws of death,…”

    If Faith is a Planter, then we have the equivalent of Hunter, its obverse. Not so much a whodunnit but who is the least paper a character to have been ABLE to do it without being torn apart by planted or connective ‘objective correlatives’?
    “She was nothing but a paper girl,…”
    The embedded wire arches of croquet, the How (as Faith calls him) of Howard, the distances of Miles, the velleities of Vellet, the Slough of despond or snake, wise man or pantomime truth, clay or lambency, tonic water or malaria, the guilt of setting alight the fuse of lies or the plant itself having lies about it planted…
    “Someone might kill for a plant like that.”
    Someone might kill for a review like this one, itself planted.

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    CHAPTERS 29 & 30

    “The Lie Tree tugged at her thoughts. She felt as though its vines had grown into her mind, and that even now it was hauling her back to it.”

    As I do, being hauled or hawled back to my own lie tree. Meanwhile, Faith as the ever-hardening Frances “danced the puppets through the colourless forest” of pages, including myself as the tiny Wise Man in her How Theatre of words. A Myrtle-pragmatic prithee Prythe of a morality tale, whereby the characters’ motives still continue clarifying via the Intentional Fallacy of their puppet-mistresses in and out of the book.

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  17. CHAPTERS 31, 32 & 33

    “She scrambled and climbed, over cat’s cradles of vines strung out like suspension bridges, past mighty trunks of plaited creepers, mounting vast wooden spirals as if they were stairways. All the while the air softly hummed with murmured lies.”

    The machinations of this plot – amid the vines and vanes of fiction’s vanity as truth – are now fast revealing themselves beyond the tentacular reach of spoilers, or any spoilers that I could provide, were I irresponsible. Pecking orders and confidences as to vulnerability are ever changing, give or take the odd nudge by either puppet-mistress, be it Faith or Frances. Melodramatic, yes. But ingenious, too, if a smidgeon contrived. But a contrivance of a contrivance makes it seem as real as a deftly doctored photograph, which is easier to do today than it was in Victorian times.

  18. CHAPTERS 34, 35 & 36

    “She could almost feel the presence of other Faiths from other times.”

    A cinematic climax beyond the scope of How’s toy theatre does not detract from the subtlety of the genderifics of the text, the mixed message feminine ‘invisibility’, a mixed message, too, of villainess and heroine (whether that be one woman or two), and the hope for development beyond any narrow Tree of Knowledge towards Evolution itself.
    “When every door is closed, one learns to climb through windows.”
    This is humanity itself hawling itself up by the reversed bootstraps.
    “…able to haul up our friends once again […] Her fingers found holds and her arms found strength and she hauled herself upward. […] But as she tried to haul herself into that light, the vines tightened and held her.”
    A sea’s pareidolia with a “lunatic’s smile” in its waves. Even a hint that the Lie Tree’s infection could even start again via a Member of Parliament to all others in that Chamber.
    Literature as “animal magnetism”, and I sense that my gestalt real time reviews of fiction books since 2008 have simply been waiting till now to catch or be caught by this remarkable novel, this lying booktree’s photograph of the tiny Wise Man hidden beneath the sticky corner that keeps it in the album of truth.


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