Review: There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake
By Julie Mills
The themes of the novel are identity and change manifested in the person of adolescent Shelby about to become adult at age 18, and of course lies. The story is told in a dual narrative set in present day USA and in “the dreaming”, an imagined, fairy tale, mythological location influenced by legends of the Native American peoples. The two narratives echo, mirror and complement each other and gradually become more overtly closely linked. In one of the narratives we are on a typical “road movie” trajectory running away from events and in the other we are on a quest in search of the evil crone and to rescue “the child.”
The lies begin at the beginning. The author/narrator lies to us right at the start. Shelby’s Mom has been lying to her all her life, she lies during this story. The coyote figure tells Shelby that there will be two lies and then there will be the truth. This may be about the only thing which is reliable, although we are kept speculating about which stories/versions/revelations are lies – or the lies.
Everyone has several identities, and roles, in the story.
Mom/Shaylene/Anya Maxwell/killer/victim/The Crone/ also trickster?
Shelby/The Maiden/Angelica/The Child
The narrator is Shelby and we are introduced bit by bit to her unusual world where she is home schooled by her overprotective Mom and has little contact with others. Her narrative suggests a pretty regular teenager albeit with an unusual lifestyle. Gradually we realise what has been hinted at, that Shelby is deaf. We think this explains her Mom’s behaviour, along with the revelation, which turns out to be another lie, that Shelby’s Dad is not dead and that her Mom is hiding them from an abusive husband. The catalyst for the action and the series of revelations is an accident whereby Shelby is hit by a car and injured at which point she first encounters the figure of the coyote who subsequently acts as her guide in the dreaming. The rug is continually pulled from beneath our feet, and Shelby’s. This is the chaos and change that Coyote in legend is known for. Shelby’s experience is more than the average coming of age identity crisis. She is literally robbed of her identity and she asks “what is left when everything you thought you were is eroded, swept away?
The characters do not just develop in this story they change completely as the author plays with us, creating chaos like the trickster coyote, convincing us that a character is one thing and then turning that upside down by revealing another “truth”.
Is the author in control? Yes, of deliberate chaos. The transition from one plot line to another is made explicitly using blank and minimal text on pages and cosmic imagery, there are no blurred lines here. The two sequences are linked and this is referenced in both major and minor events which are directly comparable – building a fire making a wigwam of sticks and lighting the tinder, riding smoothly on elk through wild forest/ travelling in Cadillac on highways through forest. The armed police who take Shelby at the cabin are likened to the wolves chasing them in the dreaming “tiny red lights glowing on their night vision goggles like the eyes of the wolves shining in the forest of the dreaming.”p206. At a critical point Shelby uses her knowledge and experience of the real world, in the form of climbing equipment, to save herself in the dreaming and there is more continuity in the narrative between the two worlds with no starry transfer. In the climax of the two narratives there are direct correlations close together about the rescue of the child and the destruction of the crone and the surrender of Shaylene and Shelby’s release. Shelby is in control of both situations, she has become whole by rescuing the child, which we knew all along did we not was herself as a child, and refuses to be defined by her past and deception of her Mom by accepting what happened to her and eventually building reconciliation with her “real” family.
The narrative in the teenage voice can be convincing but sometimes grates. It is written in present tense and Shelby the narrator often directly addresses the reader. Whilst the plot twists and turns keep us engaged and actively questioning and speculating, the symbolism of the story is not subtle and the explications in the voice of teenage Shelby are sometimes heavy handed “When he is in coyote form I am just going to call him coyote OK? But remember that he is Mark too” (p.215) Shelby’s imagined forest of thorns, the Crones’ castle and crystal cabinet which holds the child all evoke the imagery of classic Disney versions of Sleeping beauty and Snow White. Is this part of Shelby’s childhood experience rather than the memory of place theory one of the more mystical elements of the description of the Dreaming. There is some confusion about where the Dreaming comes from by two thirds of the way through the book Shelby questions “All this is happening in my head right? (p.3326) and “But I didn’t know any of this stuff….how does that work?” (p.349). Soon after, as things are reaching crisis point she is near desperate as she says “I don’t have a future, that I can imagine anyway”. But finally she realises that the Dreaming is preparation for dealing with the reality, that she knew things would change as she became 18 and yet in no way had she known how radically things would change. So Coyote the chaos bringer also brings change for the better, control of her future and then there will be the truth.
The Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group. Meeting at the University of Roehampton to discuss the shortlists, their reviews were then posted to the shadowing site itself. Over this summer, we are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group was coordinated by NCRCL PhD student, Kay Waddilove.