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410 pages, Paperback
First published March 7, 2015
"I want to be a bad example."'The Lie Tree' is a fascinating book. It is a quite dark and exceedingly clever mystery set on the murky edge between history and fantasy in the post-Darwin's Origin of the Species 19th century straight-laced Victorian England, touching upon the question of women's role in society, gender roles and expectations, the selective opportunities and blatant disregard and discrimination so absurd as to seem almost fantastical and yet so painfully historically real and true, and the conflict between the new ideas of evolution and the established societal faith-based paradigms which left many feeling that the ground had been yanked from under their feet.
“I have lived long enough to see the death of wonders. Like many others, I have dedicated my life to investigating the marvels and mysteries of Creation, the better to understand the designs of our Maker. Instead, our discoveries have brought us doubt and darkness. Within our lifetime, we have seen Heaven’s lamp smashed and our sacred place in the world snatched from us. We have been dethroned and flung down among the beasts.And, of course, the nature, allure and perils of lying. The danger and necessity of some lies. The rewards and the consequences of them. The easiness and the speed with which they find a life of their own.
We thought ourselves kings of the ages. Now we find that all our civilization has been nothing but a brief, brightly lit nursery, where we have played with paper crowns and wooden sceptres. Beyond the door are the dark wastes where Leviathans wrestled for millennia. We are a blink of an eye, a joke amidst a tragedy.”
“Choose a lie that others wish to believe, her father had written.”--------------
“Myrtle had once explained to Faith that there was a right way to give an order to a servant. You phrased it as a question to be polite. Will you fetch the tea? Could you please speak with Cook? But instead of your voice pitch going up at the end, you let it droop downward, to show that it was not really a question, and they were not expected to say no.Faith Sunderly is fourteen, "clumsily rocking between childhood and adulthood", occupying that uncertain place in a young girl's life when she is no longer a child but not yet a woman, constantly relegated between the perceived silliness of a child and presumed inferiority as a female. A priest's daughter, Faith is an aspiring natural scientist in a world that traps her by the artificial limitation that Victorian society places on women.
It occurred to Faith that that was the way her mother talked to her.”
“Faith was full of questions, coiling and writhing like the snake in the crate.”Faith wants it all and nothing unreasonable - the opportunities that are denied to her because of her gender, the recognition of her sharp and clever mind, her father's love and respect - but runs into a brick wall of societal expectations and standards that require her to be a "good girl", obedient, quiet and invisible. As her own much adored father brutally tells her in a moment of anger:
“There was a hunger in her, and girls were not supposed to be hungry. They were supposed to nibble sparingly when at table, and their minds were supposed to be satisfied with a slim diet too. A few stale lessons from tired governesses, dull walks, unthinking pastimes. But it was not enough. All knowledge – any knowledge – called to Faith, and there was a delicious, poisonous pleasure in stealing it unseen.”
“She had always known that she was rated less than Howard, the treasured son. Now, however, she knew that she was ranked somewhere below ‘miscellaneous cuttings’.”
“Listen, Faith. A girl cannot be brave, or clever, or skilled as a boy can. If she is not good, she is nothing. Do you understand?"And Faith can't help but become angry. Very angry. Angry at the word that insists on putting obstacles in her path and reducing her to a mere pretty ornament. Angry at other women who seem to be so adept at fulfilling their expected societal roles (oh Faith, if you only knew...). Angry at all the thwarted attempts to make a difference, make a mark on this world. Angry at the unknown killers that took her father's life and threaten to destroy her family's normal existence.
“People were animals, and animals were nothing but teeth. You bit first, and you bit often. That was the only way to survive.”Had Hardinge been a lesser writer, this could have been a lovely story about a young girl trying to ascertain her place in the hostile world. Or a great mystery story. Or a sharp commentary on the clash of societal values, the intersection of old and new, the faith and science, the progressive and the repressive 'traditionalist' viewpoints. It could have been any of those. But Hardinge is amazing, and this book is all of the above, faultlessly and sharply created, full of nuances and greyness of adulthood replacing the comfortable black-and-white world of childhood and adolescence. It is about not only growing into your own not always nice and good self but also about learning to see the things in yourself and others that go against what is comfortable to think and assume.
“She did not feel hot or helpless any more. She felt the way snakes looked when they moved.”
"It could be kindness. Faith felt hollow at the thought. She had needed kindness before, and had received none. Now it was too late, and she did not know what to do with it.”It is about understanding the ways you are shaped by your world despite trying so hard not to be. And yet about understanding not only who you are really are but who you want - and need - to be.
“There was a creeping sensation under Faith’s skin. Just for a moment she wished that she could shed herself like a snake’s skin, and slide away to be somebody new.”
“This was the hardest part. It was easier to be the witch, the harpy. Being human was dangerous.”
“Who had they been, all these mothers and sisters and wives? What were they now? Moons, blank and faceless, gleaming with borrowed light, each spinning loyally around a bigger sphere.Hardinge weaves such a fascinating story that I've read it twice in a space of three weeks, and it hasn't lost its allure with familiarity. The second read made it even better, and that's not such a frequent occurrence. The wonderfully sharply developed characters, the atmospheric setting of the island of Vane that made me feel that I was there near the cliffs and caves and the sea, the natural dialogue and the utmost feeling of satisfaction at the perhaps best answer to the never-ending questions of 'what will you be when you grow up?'
‘Invisible,’ said Faith under her breath. Women and girls were so often unseen, forgotten, afterthoughts. Faith herself had used it to good effect, hiding in plain sight and living a double life. But she had been blinded by exactly the same invisibility-of-the-mind, and was only just realizing it.”
“Faith had always told herself that she was not like other ladies. But neither, it seemed, were other ladies.”
"I want to be a bad example."5 stars.
Myrtle had once explained to Faith that there was a right way to given an order to a servant. You phrased it as a question to be polite. Will you fetch the tea? Could you please speak with Cook? But instead of your voice pitch going up at the end, you let it droop downwards, to show that it was not really a question, and they were not expected to say no.
It occurred to Faith that her mother talked to her that way all the time.
"When every door is closed, one learns to climb through windows."
"Zeal was like gas most dangerous when you could not see it. The wrong spark could light it at any time."