Perspective and proportion in the modern era

Life is what you make of it. Literally.

At least, that’s the thought that’s been running through my head of late. I’m currently reading three books at the same time: “The Case for God” by Karen Armstrong, “Diaspora Politics” by Gabriel Sheffer (just a little light reading, you understand), and one of my all-time favorites, the complete “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” by Douglas Adams.

Why yes, it is an interesting combination.

I honestly don’t know how I ended up with these three together, but the end result is that it is occurring to me that there are very few absolute truths in the world. Everything we know is tied up in the lives we live and the worlds we inhabit, which can be infinitely different from those of others. In the second Hitchhiker’s book, “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” (probably my favorite in the series), Adams really takes this concept home: we live in worlds that revolve around our own heads.

To show us this, Adams takes our hero (sort of), Zaphod Beeblebrox, the fugitive former President of the Galaxy, and puts him on the abandoned Frogstar World B, where he will be placed in the Total Perspective Vortex, the worst kind of torture in the universe. Here’s how it works: it shows you just how small and utterly insignificant you are to the functioning of the universe. Adams writes:

For when you are given just one momentary glimpse of creation, and somewhere in it a tiny little marker, a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot, which says “You are here”.”

…And into one end [Trin Tragula, the Vortex’s inventor] plugged the whole of reality as extrapolated from a piece of fairy cake, and into the other end he plugged his wife: so that when he turned it on she saw in one instant the whole infinity of creation and herself in relation to it.

To Trin Tragula’s horror, the shock completely annihilated her brain; but to his satisfaction he realized that he had proved conclusively that if life is going to exist in a universe of this size, then the one thing it cannot afford to have is a sense of proportion.

Of course, Beeblebrox survives the ordeal (I won’t tell you how, but rest assured: it is hilariously Improbable). But the point is that we live in worlds were we are the center of the universe. We are naturally selfish creatures, and it’s not entirely our fault. We don’t have insight into how other people think or live or experience the world. We say, “walk a mile in their shoes,” but it’s not just about the shoes; people walk at different speeds and in different directions.

So how is this related to religion and diasporas? Well, I haven’t gotten though the other two books yet, but already I’m seeing that a lot of what’s being described is basically “the world according to [fill in group/community/country here].” They are not observable facts or objective analyses. When it comes to religion, this might not be so surprising because the most basic factor in a religion, the god, is unobservable. Religion by nature relies on faith to one extent or the other – of course, such faith can appeal to logic, but the appeal must be limited because the object of faith cannot be seen or experienced in a tangible manner. But what is really quite interesting is just how subjective and narrow history can be. You’d think history would be pretty simple: it either happened or it didn’t. The problem is that these facts are not created in isolation nor are they interpreted in isolation.

As a writer, I believe firmly in facts. There are things that happened, and things that didn’t. There are things that exist, and things that don’t exist (or at least cannot be proven to exist by current methods available). There are things that are true, and things that false. Furthermore, each individual has the resources to confirm said facts in a way that was not possible even 30 years ago.

This is important. In an era where many would rather have us believe “alternative facts,” we need to mobilize social media to establish truth from falsehoods and fact from fiction. But this requires a level of personal responsibility from each of us, to be honest, to be accurate, and to own up to mistakes when they are inevitably made, as quickly as possible.

Not everyone will meet that responsibility. And there will always be subjectivity in reporting, whether it’s in journalism or history books or academic papers, because we’re all humans and we’re by nature subjective. But the act of seeking out truth, the act of aiming for objectivity and acknowledging when we are incapable of it, is crucial. We have to try. Our sense of proportion depends on it, because even if we are just microscopic dots on a microscopic dot, we’re not microscopic to each other.

This post was adapted from one that originally appeared on my personal blog, Nadia’s Writing, now defunct.

Never go with a guy to a second location: A review of Sofia Khan is Not Obliged

A good friend of mine recently recommended the book “Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” by Ayisha Malik. It was a book that had been on my radar for a while, so I took this as a sign that this was the time to read it.

Via goodreads

“Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” follows the trials of – you guessed it! – Sofia Khan, a Pakistani Muslim Londonite working a rather unfulfilling jobs as a book publicist. (A little self-insertion on the part of the author? You know where I stand on this).

Sofia inadvertently suggests writing a book on Muslim dating, such as it is, and gets roped into doing it herself. She gets an advance she can’t refuse, and signs up to an online dating site for people from the Indian subcontinent.

Meanwhile, Sofia’s preexisting love life presents recurring issues. A relationship on the cusp of marriage has recently broken down because of the boyfriend’s insistence that she live with his parents per South Asian custom. Sofia’s 30 years old, and she really liked this guy, and she struggles with the breakup even as she embarks on new dating adventures for “research.” It doesn’t help that these adventures are extremely disappointing. One man in particular is everything that is wrong with men as a group. He’s self-centered, noncommittal, aimless, looking to kill time with Sofia while he waffles through life. Unfortunately for our protagonist, he is also very charming (these types often are), and we spend a lot of very frustrating time with him.

While this is happening, we’re also introduced to Sofia’s family – traditional South Asian parents and her sister Maria, who is getting married – and her friends, each with their own romantic problems. Her coworkers also form a significant portion of her social circle, misconceptions of Islam and South Asian culture included, as well as aloof Irish neighbor Conall.

I thought this book was great! It was a refreshing departure from a lot of “Muslim narratives” out there, that tend to revolve around arranged marriages, government corruption, gender-based oppression, etc. This is just an average girl living an average life, and she happens to be a Muslim from a South Asian family. That obviously has it’s impact on the trajectory of the story, as it impacts the kinds of decisions Sofia and co. make and the way in which those decisions are implemented. But it’s not the crux of the story. Yes, it’s about Muslim romance, but the story doesn’t live or die on details like Sofia’s ex’s attachment to his parents or on her friend’s struggle with polygamy (a detail I personally found rather pointless in that it presented a very serious and controversial issue and then barely addressed it).

Ultimately, Sofia is a fun-loving, lighthearted working gal, faced with a life that becomes increasingly serious over the course of the novel: the book that needs to be written, the tension between her sister and her now-husband, pressure from her parents to just pick a guy already, etc. As these conflicts heighten, we see Sofia struggle to handle it all – her personality makes her, I think, averse to this level of seriousness. That nuance in the story’s development was something I really appreciated.

Overall, “Sofia Khan is Not Obliged” is a funny send-up of love, marriage, generational conflict, and the push and pull second generation kids are always balancing. It’s also a great example of the kind of Muslim representation that I personally would like to see more of. In fact, I’m quite looking forward to picking up the second installment, “The Other Half of Happiness.”

Have you read this book? Share your opinions in the comments!

Sexism ruins lives: A review of The Muse by Jessie Burton

Have you ever had this happen with a book, where you read the first, say, five chapters, and you think huh, this is pretty interesting. Then you come back to it the next day maybe, and you read a few more chapters, and suddenly the ante ups by 500 percent and you’re reading well into the night because you must find out what happens next.

That’s “The Muse” by British author Jessie Burton. The story is about Trinidadian Odelle Bastien, who works in London in the 1960s and wants to be a writer. She takes a typist job at an art gallery, where she meets Marjorie Quick, an upper level executive. Marjorie takes a liking to her for mysterious reasons (*coughs*), but the story doesn’t really take off until Odelle meets Lawrie Scott, a young man in possession of a very strange painting. Through Odelle, he brings this painting to Marjorie’s gallery, and, well, things take a major turn.

While Odelle is doing her thing, we catch up with Olive Schloss, an Austrian-British teenager living with her wealthy family in 1930s Spain. Olive’s father, Harold, is in the business of selling art to wealthy people all over Europe and North America, and he’s kind of jerk to his daughter. Harold believes firmly that only men can be true artists – women, he tells his daughter, don’t have the right temperament or whatever to pursue art professionally (and if this sounds familiar to you, well, I urge you to contemplate the state of the world today). Olive, not surprisingly, is very depressed by this attitude and loses her motivation to paint, until she meets Isaac and Teresa Robles, siblings who serve her family’s landlord. Well, mostly Isaac. He’s older and deeply involved with the unions and communist party in Spain, and he’s also tragically poor, which is always romantic.

So Olive paints and paints and paints, and it’s clear even to the unworldly Teresa that she has a special talent. But Olive knows that anything she produces will be dismissed by her sexist father, so she decides to pass off her paintings as Isaac’s, a scheme that he accepts for reasons.

But this is 1930s Spain, and conflict is brewing even in the countryside. Olive and her family have the privilege of neutrality – up until they don’t. The Spanish Civil War takes a while to reach their small town, but when it does the results are catastrophic. Isaac, and by extension Teresa, are targets of Nationalist supporters, and the Schloss family (yes, they’re Jewish), can’t help but feel trapped on a continent that seems to be unraveling before their eyes.

The nature of their escape and the fate of Lawrie’s painting, which is obviously Olive’s wrongly attributed to Isaac, is too much of a spoiler for even me to reveal here. I will say this, the beauty of Burton’s writing is that she gives you just enough to see a few feet ahead on the path, but not quite enough to show you the destination. By the time you’ve reached the inevitable conclusion, the story is effectively complete. All that remains are a few loose ends for Odelle and Marjorie to tie up. In that sense, it reminds me a lot of “The White Lie.”

Burton crafts the story incredibly well. Odelle speaks in Trinidadian English when with her countrywoman friend, but switches to a much more formal, British English when at work or speaking with other characters, a detail that many writers who don’t have that background could easily have missed. She also does not shy away from showing just how Harold’s sexism dooms Olive, and how in turn European fascism dooms them all (to varying degrees).

What she does shy away from is racism. I find it difficult to believe that Odelle faces very little racism in 1960s London. This is barely 30 years after the “Aryan race” was a thing, and yet the worst she gets is impolite waitresses and people “complimenting her” on her English. That’s how racists act now, 70 years after WWII and in a time when racism is much less socially acceptable. I’m also astonished at how willingly she jumps into an interracial relationship. At no point does Odelle ever consider the impact this could have on her, what she might face as a black woman in the company of a white man – and it would have been much worse than a few surprised looks and disapproving tuts. Again, this kind of attitude is much more reflective of race relations today than it is the 1960s. Particularly given the current climate, we need media that clearly says: Racism hurts. Racism ruins lives. Instead, racism in Burton’s world is little more than a mild inconvenience.

“The Muse” is an intense tale. It left me emotionally exhausted and wondering how different things could be if only there was a little less prejudice in the world.

Too much bride, not enough Bollywood – A review of “The Bollywood Bride”

I took advantage of the holiday sales to buy a bunch of books from Kobo, an online store that specializes in e-reading. One of the books I purchased was “The Bollywood Bride” by Sonali Dev.


I’m about to tell you all about this book, but I want to start by saying that I came in super enthusiastic about this book. I am not Indian, but I have had many Indian friends over the years and that’s given me the opportunity to learn a little about Indian culture. I’m not an expert, obviously, which was part of why I was excited to read this book – given that it targets a non-Indian audience, I figured I’d learn more about India and Indian-American culture through the story. I was also excited because Sonali Dev is Indian – she grew up in India, traveled the world, and now lives in Chicago. I always get pumped for women telling their own stories, especially women of color. Here, I figured, was a chance to read a story of Indian-America through the eyes of someone who is actually Indian-American.

Spoilerwood, a love story

Without giving too much away, “The Bollywood Bride” is about an actress, Ria Parkar, whose family lives in Chicago. Ria was a frequent visitor as a child, but since achieving stardom over the course of a decade she has avoided returning to the U.S. As it turns out, there is a tragic backstory behind all this – she was forced to abandon the love of her life because she fears that she has inherited a serious mental disorder from her mother, whom she has secretly put up in an asylum in England.

Ria returns to the U.S. under duress to attend her cousin’s wedding, only to be reunited with her long-lost love. He is still bitter about her leaving him, and although admittedly she was pretty cold about it, this was 10 years ago. Get over it dude.

It’s clear from the outset that Ria and her love, Vikram, will end up together in the end. It is also clear that whatever fears she has about her mental health will be assuaged so that the happy couple can dance off into the sunset in true Bollywood fashion.

This is where the story starts to lose me. Personally, I don’t see why Vikram is so obsessed with Ria, other than that she was his first love. Ria is, of course, beautiful per her description, and she is depicted as polite and loving. She also has some artistic ability and talent as an actress. Beyond that, I’m not sure what the selling point is here. She has a tragic backstory, but that’s not exactly a personality trait.

(For the record, Vikram is also a little too perfect – fiery, passionate, but also kind, intelligent, and altruistic. In that sense, they’re a perfect match.)

I also don’t understand why Ria doesn’t at least try to seek treatment, to see what she can do about the illness she is convinced has been passed down to her. Her fear that she will inevitably end up like her mother, violent fits of psychosis included, is a driving force behind the story – it is the reason she leaves Vikram and the reason she resists his attempts to reconcile. And yet she does nothing to actually address it.

To her credit, Dev addresses this point. When word gets out in Bollywood that Ria has an “insane” mother, psychologists call on her by way of the press to receive treatment. They are clearly trying to get their 15 minutes of fame on the back of this most personal part of her life. However, it begs the question: why doesn’t she get treatment? I think this part of the story would have been better served if Dev had spent some time addressing this point. What kind of social stigma exists in India for those seeking mental health treatment, and how would that have impacted someone famous like Ria? What options are available to her? Could she seek treatment outside the country in secret? It would have been more satisfying, in my view, to have Ria struggling with trying to treat herself (doing research online, taking supplements, doing yoga, praying, paying a doctor exorbitant amounts of money to pretend she has a liver problem or something) than having her simply accepting her “fate” and making herself and everyone around her (Vikram included) miserable in the process.

Fortunately for Ria (and for me, because if I want to be depressed I’ll watch the news), there is a happy ending. When the Indian tabloids reach her family in America, Vikram jumps on a plane to see her, first going to Mumbai and then to England, where Ria is visiting her mother for the first time in a decade. Vikram assures her that he loves her no matter what, and that he’ll stand by her as she seeks treatment (finally!).

In the end, “The Bollywood Bride” is a cozy love story, but ultimately not a great way to learn about Indian culture. There is the wedding taking place in the background, and Ria’s interactions with her aunt and uncle in America, so it could prove interesting and educational for someone totally new to Indian culture. Dev’s other books, which are also set in an Indian-American context, promise a more in-depth look into the culture, so I’m looking forward to picking up another one soon.

So much for man’s best friend: A review of “Fifteen Dogs” by Andre Alexis

Several months ago, a very dear friend of mine gave me the book “Fifteen Dogs” as a present. Unforgivably, I did not get around to reading it until fairly recently despite the fact that I was instantly intrigued by the book’s premise.

In “Fifteen Dogs,” Canadian writer Andre Alexis imagines a world where the Greek gods of old walk among us. Two, Apollo and Hermes (the god of music and poetry and the god of transitions and boundaries, respectfully), take an interest in fifteen dogs who have the extreme misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time – a veterinary clinic in Toronto. Apollo bets Hermes that dogs would be miserable if given human intelligence, while Hermes is convinced that at least one will die happy.

It’s a dog eat dog world

You can already guess that this does not go well for the dogs in question, who wake up in the middle of the night at the clinic and decide to escape their lives of servitude to carve out their own destinies. Over the course of the book, the dogs do what we humans did – develop a language, form a societal hierarchy and a culture, and, eventually, get into fights about what the language and culture should entail.

So far, so good. I mean, that’s how our species evolved, and look at us now! Sitting at the top of the food chain, lord of all that we see, unimaginable technology at our fingertips. Granted, we mostly use it to maim and/or kill each other and destroy the very environment from which we derive our needs, but let’s not get to bogged down in the details here.

Fairly quickly conflict arises, as some dogs seek to preserve their inherit “dog-ness” by refusing to acknowledge or develop the intelligence that was thrust upon them, while others want to see how far they can take it. One in particular, Prince, who develops poetry (it’s very nice, and believably doggish), quickly becomes a target of the top dog (hah!) and his allies. They are then forced to pursue alternative paths and find themselves unable to survive without the care of a pack or a human, and at the same time unable to ignore the new instincts that challenge and conflict with the lower status of pets.

I know humans suck, but still…

It’s not surprising that things go downhill so quickly. What is surprising is the way Alexis portrays dogs, even from the beginning, as being suspicious of and even hostile to humans. A few remain loyal to their current owners, and most of them have fond memories and a genuine love for their original owners, the ones they knew as puppies. There’s actually a very heartwarming scene towards the end where Hermes makes up partially for all the trouble he’s caused by rewarding one dog with a vision of the child he’d adored, but it stands in stark contrast to how dogs view humans in the rest of the book. At best, it seems, we are a necessary nuisance to dogs, performing the functions of the “alpha” of their pack, but not inspiring any more love than your average boss or teacher does. At worst we are vicious, cruel, unpredictable creatures who are best avoided.

Granted, that last sentence is a pretty apt description for humanity at large, but it was surprising to see it so clearly articulated from the dogs’ perspective. I expected more of the “man’s best friend” view of dogs, where their loyalty and sweetness is contrasted with our fickle nature. I’m not particularly fond of dogs myself – the small ones are adorable but I’m pretty sure that one day the bigger ones are going to turn on us and decide that fresh meat is better than packaged dog food – but even I was like “geez, I thought you liked us!”

Overall, I really enjoyed “Fifteen Dogs.” It’s well-written, it’s different, and it really makes you think about why we as humans use the gift of intelligence so cruelly. If you have a dog, however, you may find it very disconcerting. At a minimum, you’ll think twice before you ask your dog to roll over again.

Color, magic, love – “Furthermore” by Tahereh Mafi quashes it all

A few months ago I interviewed bestselling writer Tahereh Mafi for The Tempest, so I was really excited when her agent offered me a copy of her new book, Furthermore, for review.

I wasn’t completely sure what to make of the book at first. I haven’t done much fantasy reading outside of the Discworld series for a while now, and Furthermore is aimed at middle-school children, not adults. So I approached the book with a sense of trepidation.

A land of spoilers lies past this barrier…

The book follows 12-year-old Alice Queensmeadow and her frenemy Oliver Newbanks as they leave the magical but orderly land of Ferenwood to search for her father, who has been missing for three years. Oliver, who had been assigned to search for him, reveals that her father is trapped in the land of Furthermore, the dark, threatening sister land to Ferenwood.

We spend quite a bit of time in Ferenwood at the start of the book, with Tahereh really taking her time to build a beautiful world of color and magic. In Ferenwood, magic is an inherent characteristic, and the more color you have in your person – blue hair, brown skin, bright eyes – the more magic you have. This is a problem for Alice, who has no color. Of course, you an also purchase magic, but again, this is out of Alice’s reach. Meanwhile, the people around her, particularly Oliver and her father, have impressive powers.

Flowers, light, shiny bangles;  that’s the world we start out in in Ferenwood, and it stands in stark contrast to the much darker and chaotic world of Furthermore that Alice ventures into. As she and Oliver travel from village to village, trying (and often failing) to stay alive and unharmed as they search for her father, Tahereh unravels the inner workings of the preteen psyche.

It’s hard to be a teen

To me, the most poignant issue Alice faces is her insecurity about her relationship with her family. She believes her mother doesn’t love her, and her brothers are so unconnected to her they don’t even warrant names. This is what drives her to find her father – aside from her love for him, their loving relationship is essentially a relic from a happier time, childhood.

It’s a concept that resonates. Perhaps the most difficult thing about the transition from child to adult (i.e. adolescence) is the warping of the parent-child relationship. You want to be your own person, pushing against their definitions and expectations just because it comes from them (something Alice does with her father, but let’s not get into that here). At the same time, you want their approval, their love, their affection, but feel unable to ask for it. The relationship that came so easily and naturally at five, six, seven, eight, seems to disappear almost completely by 11 or 12. Replacing it with something new is probably the biggest challenge child and parent will ever face, and that is exactly what Alice is trying to do in Furthermore. 

This, to me, is where Tahereh really excels. As an adult, I know that despite everything, Alice’s mother does love her, and it’s important, particularly to the book’s intended audience, to really demonstrate that.

How dark is dark enough?

Aside from this underlying theme, I found Furthermore to be compellingly dark and yet somehow not completely satisfying. There’s so much buildup in the sense of danger that Tahereh builds. There’s the cannibalistic nature of Furthermore’s residents, the very real threat of imprisonment, the murky and mysterious “Elders” that seem to playing with the fates of Alice, Oliver, and possibly her father.

And yet, it doesn’t really pay off. As much danger as Alice and Oliver face, there’s never any question that they will find her father. At least not for me. For the story to have any emotional resonance, they have to find her father, otherwise why are we even here? I don’t know if this is just me and my expectations of plot development, but for me the question is never whether Alice will find her father, the question is whether or not they’ll be able to get out. In the end, though, that turns out to be incredibly easy. Frankly, a little too easy. Apparently no one in Furthermore has heard of the concept of prison guards, and those elders aren’t in as much control as certain mysterious creatures would like you to believe.

Ultimately, as much as I enjoyed Alice’s journey, I ended up finding myself more interested in Oliver and his first trip to Furthermore, or even that of Alice’s father when he was a kid. I get the sense that where the prospect of actual death never really looms over Alice and Oliver (in comparison to say, the final showdown between Harry Potter and Tom Riddle in Chamber of Secrets, as an age-appropriate example), it may have certainly loomed over a young boy entering a dangerous world for the first time with no supervision or help. Tahereh is clearly setting up for a sequel (rightly so, since I believe Furthermore will quickly become a bestseller), but what I’d really like to see is a prequel. Perhaps that’s something she’ll consider down the line as she further expands on the origins of her magical worlds.

Overall, I’m excited to see where Furthermore ends up, and I think that Tahereh has a winning formula here. It’s the kind of book that you can buy for your niece, read yourself, and then have some really interesting discussions about.

You can find all of Tahereh Mafi’s books, including “Furthermore” and her “Shatter Me” series, at the Creative Quibble bookstore.

Book review: The White Lie by Andrea Gilles

Some time ago I read a book called The White Lie by Scottish writer Andrea Gillies. I want to write about it because it was a very interesting, if not completely successful, book.

The thing that intrigued me about The White Lie is that it’s written from the perspective of a dead person, Michael, and spans decades and generations. The book actually starts with a family tree, and to me this is like a flashing neon sign that says “THIS BOOK WILL BE CONFUSING.” And it was – several people who are referenced are dead, and the family, a noble Scottish clan whose patriarch lives in a manor dating to, one assumes, medieval times, has a tendency to recycle names. Thus Ottilie is Michael’s mother and also his great-great-aunt, or possibly his great-grandmother (see what I mean?), but generally this doesn’t prevent you from following along.

Spoilers in wait beyond this point

The plot goes thusly (major spoiler alert!!!): Michael is killed by his aunt in a boat accident – she hits him with an oar and he drowns. (It’s not clear what’s going on with his aunt exactly. She’s very intelligent but lacks basic social skills and acts like a 10-year-old, so maybe something on the autism spectrum? We’re not told, and it seems the family has not tried to figure out exactly what it is). Anyway, the family, in an attempt to protect the aunt from prosecution and save themselves from scandal, tell a white lie – that Michael ran away from home. But Ghost!Michael can now see everything that has happened in and around the loch where he was killed; memories of ugly past events from his family’s unfortunate history. As it turns out, there is a long list of white lies and cover-ups and secrets that family members have been keeping from one another, and Ghost!Michael sinks into every one of them until you don’t know what’s true and what isn’t, until you wonder whether Michael was actually killed in the boat accident or if he survived that but died in some other way at some other time.

If you must haunt, this isn't a bad place to do it. Photo by Moyen Brenn via Flickr.
If you must haunt, this isn’t a bad place to do it. Photo by Moyen Brenn via Flickr.

That aspect of the book’s structure is really interesting and to me, quite unique – the book goes from a calm if depressing certainty, that Michael is dead and his aunt killed him, and becomes more and more uncertain until you reach a peak, a crescendo, where everything is true and everything is false and you start to doubt the basic premise of the story, that Michael is really dead. But as the story winds down things become more and more clear, and one incident in particular, the incident that Gillies certainly wants us to think of as the starting point, becomes exceedingly obvious. That’s part of the reason why I enjoyed the book – by the time Gillies is ready to reveal to us this major point, most readers will have already guessed it, so she doesn’t make a big deal out of it. She knows, we know, but it has to be said to break the hold it has over us as readers and over the family itself. This is where the book stumbles, because ultimately the family’s secret stays a secret to some of its own members, and so the pressure of the book is never fully released. It may be more realistic that some secrets are always kept, but it’s not as artistic.

Another point I didn’t like was that the Gillies, while otherwise successful at painting three-dimensional characters, resorts to a black-and-white characterization between Ottillie, Michael’s mother, and her twin sister Joan. Joan becomes a kind of evil twin to Ottillie despite the fact that Gillies recognizes Ottillie’s personal flaws. Yet Joan is portrayed as vindictive and mean-spirited in a way that Ottillie never is, even though, in my view, she is just as bad if less obvious. Perhaps it’s just that we cannot trust Michael’s narration – she is his mother after all, and he’s dead. But even so, Ottillie’s ultimate explanation for some of her choices, which I won’t share here, left me feeling disappointed in her character and even turned off by her. I felt that we were expected to buy into Joan being this bad person and Ottillie having somehow been the victim of her sister’s admittedly nasty attitude, but I just couldn’t accept that.

Ultimately, The White Lie is a book that feels familiar while at the same time going beyond conventional plot forms, and I greatly appreciated that. Definitely a great read and one I would recommend to those looking for something out of the box.