I want to be described by Cadence Sinclair. I want her to put me into two words, maybe three. ‘Mirren, she is sugar, curiosity, and rain’. Who wouldn’t want to be distilled like that?..
We Were Liars is a novel with a twist. That’s an extremely vapid sentence if you consider the fact that most of modern-day fiction comes with a gimmick-sized twist. Style and the rest of it might come in useful, but twist is the selling point. This time, however, it’s a twist that is pretty much what this whole book is about. Like a detective story without a crime, the novel will not work without this twist. It will fall apart.
The book is based on a lie. Cadence Sinclair Eastman is a teenage girl coming from a wealthy, tall, athletic, handsome American family. There’s a brief and eye-catching first chapter that describes the Sinclairs and, like all Cadence’s descriptions, it is childish, whimsical, unaffected and very precise. The girl’s vain grandfather owns an island, and four best friends (three are related and one is Cadence’s boyfriend) spend each summer there – wallowing in silly good times. The notion of ‘best friends’ is questionable, though, as they tend to forget about each other’s existence once the summer is over. ‘Friends weakened into acquaintances’. It is also questionable because one summer an unspeakable thing happens.
It happens to Cadence. Did she see something she was not supposed to see? Was she raped? Cadence does not remember, because she probably hit her head on the rock and the only thing that is left of that strange day from summer fifteen is a bad headache that keeps tormenting her all through the next year. Well, she has to find out – because there are all these liars. Mirren, Johnny, Gat, even her mother – nobody tells her what actually happened, and so this book is this anxious trip that will have to end with a quite astonishing chapter called “The Truth”. And Christ will you want to know it.
Is it worth it, getting inside this girl’s head? I’d say yes. She might not be anything beyond her secret, but with a secret that big you do not need to worry. Besides, Cadence is full of good observations that are so infantile they border on genius. ‘Johnny, he is bounce, effort, and snark’. It’s a raw and sketchy and cranky world E. Lockhart creates, but it rings with genuine feeling. It’s a disturbing feeling, even sickening, but it is also quite fascinating. We Were Liars is what you could call a cleverly constructed cherry-bomb of a novel.
Well, let me put it like this. I was walking through a park in Siena and suddenly it started to rain. Nothing critical. Nothing a decent bench, a thick tree and fifteen minutes wouldn’t fix. There were maybe 150 pages left in We Were Liars and so much to do about the city. And then suddenly the rain was long over, my chance neighbour changed for the umpteenth time, Siena grew a little dim, and the book was closed on the last page.
All, remember, all about that twist. But what twist.