Your Beautiful Lies (14 August 2014) by Louise Douglas
What happened? Can this really be the work of the same author responsible for the hugely enjoyable The Secrets Between Us and In Her Shadow? I have been unwell over the past week and wanted something to read that wouldn't ask much of me, or take a great deal of concentration to understand. I considered and rejected several 'light' books before I came to this, which I'd been saving for a rainy day, or at least some day closer to its 14th August publication date. Unfortunately, it was disappointing, and lacked the qualities that made the aforementioned Louise Douglas books so fun to read.
Your Beautiful Lies is set in a South Yorkshire mining town in the 1980s. The story is about Annie Howarth, the young wife of the local Chief Superintendent, who at first glance seems reasonably happy: living in a grand, beautiful house named Everwell, she is a doting mother to seven-year-old Elizabeth and is one of the lucky few to enjoy a calm, safe existence in the midst of the miners' strike. But when her ex-boyfriend Tom is released from prison, after serving ten years for a manslaughter he still insists he was framed for, long-buried passions are stirred up. As Annie and Tom begin a risky relationship, a young woman with a striking resemblance to Annie is found murdered on the moors near to Everwell and it seems that Annie is playing an increasingly dangerous game.
This novel is markedly different in tone to the others I've read by Douglas. By a third of the way in I felt it was dragging me into a dreary, dispiriting world I didn't want to be a part of. Annie's life is so terribly repetitive it's boring to read about. She gets up, gets dressed, cares for her daughter and elderly mother-in-law, visits her parents, and cooks dinner, which is almost always described in minute detail. Perhaps all of this is intentional - to highlight how hard life was for the residents of a mining town at this point in history, to emphasise the dullness of Annie's life before the return of Tom - but either way, it was a hard slog to get through and made me feel trapped in a very limited world. I kept waiting for something to happen; I kept waiting until something would make me really care about Annie and Tom. I am certainly not opposed to reading stories about 'cheating', or more specifically about women being unfaithful - on the contrary, I often really enjoy reading such stories. And I did find Annie's mother's moralising about her behaviour very irritating. But I just couldn't summon up any sympathy for Annie - she knew what she was doing and that a child was involved from the beginning, and she was hardly discreet about her assignations. How can she have been surprised that anyone figured out what she was doing when she hardly bothered to cover it up?
Certain omissions annoyed me: why does Annie never ask Tom what was going on with Selina? Her jealousy just evaporates into thin air and is never mentioned again. The 'Yorkshire'-ness of the characters - everyone's eating parkin and saying 'mithered' and taking their whippets for a walk, probably while wearing a flat cap - feels belaboured. And I thought it was bizarre that the reader was expected to believe Annie and Tom had never slept together, not once in a six-year relationship, for no apparent reason other than fear of pregnancy. Tom was 22 when he went to prison, and Annie presumably a similar age since it's mentioned they 'grew up together'; this all took place in the mid-1970s and neither character is portrayed as particularly religious. Seriously, six years and nothing? I just cannot imagine a deeply-in-love couple in their late teens/early twenties having the self-restraint to manage this unless there was a specific reason for it, such as religious beliefs or one of them having a serious aversion to sex (and it is strongly implied that this was very much not the case). It's a minor point, I guess, but it struck me as very odd.
And then the ending!! Without giving away what happens, it is quite shocking, but more shocking than what actually happens is that the book just suddenly ends; there is no real conclusion, only a very perfunctory deus-ex-machina-ish explanation of the murder, and many questions remain unanswered. The nature of the ending also suggests that the characters are getting some kind of comeuppance for their behaviour and that there is no guarantee of further happiness. I really don't know whether to think this ending makes the book better or worse. On the one hand, to take something that readers will expect to be a light, even chick-lit-like, romantic mystery and make it into something dark and depressing with a shocking, pitch-black ending and no real resolution - that is a bold move. Looked at in that light, it almost seems like an experimental piece of work. I feel like the author deserves some respect for this when she surely could have easily written something more similar to her other books. But on the other hand, does doing this make it a good book? Sadly, I don't think so. The quality of the writing doesn't match the darkness of the story, and it doesn't make for a satisfying whole.
Louise Douglas has written some great light reads which I have truly relished reading, but I'm sorry to say this can't be counted among them. I give the author credit for deviating from her usual template, but for me, Your Beautiful Lies wasn't a success, and I'm not sure who I would recommend it to.
I received an advance review copy of Your Beautiful Lies from the publisher through NetGalley.
Rating: 4/10 | Twitter | Goodreads | Booklikes | Bloglovin' | Pre-order on Amazon: Kindle & Paperback