We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
12th May 2014
“Then [Dad] pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest. I was standing on the lawn and I fell. The bullet hole opened wide and my heart rolled out of my ribcage and down into a flower bed. Blood gushed rhythmically from my open wound,
Then from my eyes,
It tasted like salt and failure.”
Two pages into E. Lockhart‘s We Were Liars and this happens. Except it doesn’t, or at least not literally. This is the unreliable voice of central protagonist, seventeen-year old Cadence Sinclair Eastman (Cady), who introduces herself in relation to what she used to be: “I used to be pretty, but now I look sick.”
It is often difficult to decide whether Cady’s evasive narration is unintentional or deliberate. We know that she experiences debilitating migraines and amnesia as the result of a head injury; but we also know that she “like[s] a twist of meaning.”
Either way, it makes for a ridiculously compulsive read as the reader tries to fill the gaps in Cady’s memory of Summer Fifteen. We know that Cady is part of the Sinclair family, a line of blond, athletic “old, money Democrats,” governed by the patriarchal keeper of the inheritance and Cady’s grandfather, Harris Sinclair.
We know that they spend every summer on the family’s private island off Massachusetts, with Cady’s mother, her two aunts and her cousins, the eldest of whom are Johnny and Mirren. Johnny’s best friend, Indo-American Gat is the proverbial Other in Harris Sinclair’s thoroughbred kingdom. The four teenagers are the eponymous Liars of the books title.
We know that during Summer Fifteen there was an incident that left Cady knocked unconscious and washed up on the beach. We don’t know the circumstances behind it, or why they are Liars, or what lies they told.
Lockhart has done a masterly job in covertly planting the seeds of evidence that support Cady's gradual anamnesis two years on from the accident... She also exacts brilliant portrayals of teenage flippancy and the excruciating turbulence of first love.Lockhart has done a masterly job in covertly planting the seeds of evidence that support Cady’s gradual anamnesis two years on from the accident. Her family won’t or have been warned not to tell her anything, and Gat is distant. She also exacts brilliant portrayals of teenage flippancy and the excruciating turbulence of first love.
On the surface the Sinclairs should be completely detestable, but Lockhart is a nuanced enough writer to infer their humanity, particularly in the Liars, who are trying to conflate the world of fairytales and fudge, with adulthood and malleable moralities.
A hint of my own adult cynicism emerged in the last few chapters of this book, feeling slightly inclined to pick at how Lockhart deals with Cady’s reaction to the truth.
But, considering this in relation to my teenage-self, I know I would have found much to identify with; it is a powerful and distinctive YA novel.