I love a psychological thriller that is based on female friendship because on the whole this is one of the most underused relationships within this type of fiction. In The Lying Game we meet four women who built their friendship at boarding school – yes, I also can’t resist boarding school fiction either probably a hangover of my love of Mallory Towers as a child. The four girls were well passed the midnight feast escapades by the time they met, well into their teens and their illicit acts had more to do with alcohol, cigarettes and escaping across the marshes to one of the number’s nearby cottage.
Now an adult, Isa has a young baby and in the early hours she receives the text she hoped she never would, just three stark words that chill her ‘I need you.’ The text comes from Kate, her friend in Saltern, the one who never left the area where the four friends boarded. As Isa makes her excuses and takes the train to Saltern, she’s wondering whether Fatima and Thea are also making their way to the cottage. Needless to say they also received the text. And the reader, having read the opening chapter knows why – a dog has made an unwelcome discovery on the marshes.
The four girls, now women, were quite different and rarely the gentle exploration of religious beliefs was welcomed by this reader as we see how Fatima’s relaxed approach as a teenager has altered as she has grown, married and had a family. Now a doctor she wears her headscarf and follows the teachings as a Muslim. Thea is not so secure in life, struggling to find her calling she marshals her life with too much booze and too little food. And Isa, with her position in the legal profession on hold while she’s on maternity leave, appears to have put the past behind her. As for Kate, she has clung on, living in her artistic father’s house in Saltern, the scene of their childhood escape route, and ignoring the rumours that still swirl around the village as she clings to the past.
This is the sort of novel you can race through with ease and although it starts slowly, I was invested from the first page wondering what secrets the four were hiding. The title comes from the time the four became friends, excluding the other boarders in the type of friendship that is peculiar to some teenage girls. There was no room for anyone, or anything else in their lives and any potential hangers-on were kept at bay by the game devised by Thea – ‘The Lying Game’ invented to play pranks, not on any new girls, but those popular girls, and teachers, the ones who made sure their superiority was not in doubt.
Although the book didn’t have the huge twist that readers have come to expect from the genre, the exploration of friendship, both as teenagers, and adults was perfectly executed and the setting was brilliant. I felt I was there with the women, looking out over the landscape, in the unique cottage or even in the somewhat shabby boarding school with its endless staircases.
The Lying Game would make the perfect holiday read, escapism bound up with truths that many readers will identify with.
I am very grateful to the publishers Random House UK who provided me with a copy of The Lying Game which was a thoroughly engaging read; this unbiased review is my thanks to them. For those of you who prefer to read paperbacks, this one will be published in that form in March 2018.
Previous Books by Ruth Ware