On 3… A Review of We Were Liars.

The concept: 

If you read the previous ‘On 3…’ you can skip this bit.

You know that feeling when you’re half way through a book, and you’re already sick of it but you have to finish it? No? Oh… yeah… erm… me either… I guess. Well, I’m trying to break that habit – which I don’t have – with popular fiction books I’ve not read. Yet.

So I’m trying something different. When submitting to agents, you have to hook them with three chapters. So, I’m going to review the following novel on three chapters – and no more. These reviews are a teaser of what’s yet to come within the narrative, the questions the novel sets before the reader, and whether I would continue to read or not.

And – as so much of my life is – this review will be interrupted and ‘corrected’ by my mum.

We Were Liars

We Were Liars, E. Lockhart

Can I just say, I love a map. And a family tree. During my time studying Historical Fiction at Bath Spa University for my MA, I was told that including a family tree or a timeline was a ‘bit of a cop out’ as the story should world-build around the time you’re including for your story. But that the opening page is a map of Beechwood Island, with the building names and families in residence, and then the second page is the Sinclair family tree suggests a uniformity and quintessential nature to the world I’m about to travel through.

Which, of course, is perfectly in sync with the jarring opening sentences.

‘Welcome to the beautiful Sinclair family. No one is a criminal. No one is an addict. No one is a failure.’

Why does that strike me as insincere?

Cadence Sinclair Eastman sounds like every over-dramatic, hormone ridden student having a bad day. She’s full of existential crises and an overwhelming desire to both stand out and stay hidden. She’s condescending about her aunt’s ‘stay at home’ position, whilst calling her own mum ‘mummy’, seems overtly disgusted by money whilst spending it from a comfortable position of ‘not bothering to understand’ where the money comes from. I don’t like her. She’s too much a poet, and as a narrator – less than reliable.

Mum: ‘I’m so glad the first three chapters are no more than 3.5 pages. The short, staccato sentences were clearly meant to give impact and drama. I was just irritated by them. What utter drivel.’

I feel like it’s a stylistic choice to develop the character as opposed to just ‘for the drama,’ but I’ll echo my point from earlier that she seems over-dramatic and hormone ridden. As condescending as that might sound. A lot of literary writers at the moment are dropping the drawn-out complex sentences for short, brusque responses to the situation of the story and the character’s immediate thought. And We Were Liars is – in my opinion – literary fiction. The conflict so far has been internalised. Her father has left. Her family is a mess but won’t admit it. But, the ‘bullet’ – which I didn’t realise was a metaphor at first – is in her chest. Not out in open play.

And if you think I’m kidding about the metaphor – I genuinely read the sentence

‘And then he pulled out a handgun and shot me in the chest’.

Twice with the response – Wait. What? Before realising she’d just had a break down at her dad driving away.

Mum: Oh. I read it three times and thought she’d actually been shot.

What? And then got up and gone shopping for furniture? With a chest wound?

Mum: That’s what she said. I was captured by the cover. I thought it was written for grown ups, a murder mystery and not a poetry-literary-teen-y bleurgh. It’s too deep.

And you say I’ve got a short attention span.

Mum: I just feel I was sold a pup. I thought it would be a grown up book for grown ups. But it was a sheep in wolf clothing.

Mum: The pretence to show the families as wealthy and clearly something to be proud of, or jealous depending on how you view Americans, was pathetic. It was like name dropping celebrities to gain kudos. Martha’s Vineyard, Ivy League colleges and famous cities were through out to prove a point, but instead made a pathetic attempt at a lazy list of places where the rich supposedly hang out.

They are obvious sign posts – but – signposting works. If I were to write a story about someone from Portsmouth University meeting someone from St Andrews – you’d immediately have expectations about both people just from the signposted uni alone. (To be clear, I don’t have a preference on either, but there’s a reason Kate Middleton met her prince charming at St Andrews and not Portsmouth.) And if this novel was marketed for teenagers (which makes sense because the character is 17, so her target audience would be 15-ish) then the signposts don’t need to be clever or intricate. They need to be clear. These people are clearly filthy rich.

Mum: I won’t be reading any further. Waste of space on the bookshelf.

I never thought I’d find myself defending We Were Liars. I guess a part of me remembers that it was one of my favourite students (I know it’s bad form to admit I had favourites but hey, what are you going to do?) that recommended the book to me in the first place. And whilst the language is both flowery and brief, over-emotional and stark, I do think there’s a place for it and I can see why so many young people enjoy it.

I am intrigued to find out what the ‘accident’ is because you don’t find out in the first three chapters. And I fully expect the family to unravel and reveal themselves to be less than worthy of the time the narrator spends thinking and talking about them. Maybe We Were Liars is worth the rest of my afternoon.

Only one way to find out.

Medusa’s Epic

I.
My family are immortal,
Born of Titans and sea.
My family are all monsters.
All, except for me.
My father is a creature with
Crab claws, a merman’s tail.
I have soft hands, soft features.
I am mortal. I am frail.
My mother is a goddess,
Her hair smells of sea and salt.
She has the strength of the ocean
And my beauty is her fault.
My sisters are both giants.
Their names mean strength and brawn
But my name means protection.
A curse to do me harm.
My brother is a dragon,
Full of venom and spite.
He’ll coil around his apple tree
And kill you with one bite.
Our name, Gorgon, means terrible.
But for me it isn’t true.
My hair is golden sunsets.
My eyes the deep sea blue.
My family are all monsters,
Nightmares in the dark.
Creatures of legend and myth.
Whilst I am beyond remark.
.
.
II.
My childhood clouds in mystery.
No one cared about my strife
I spent my time in solitude,
An isolated life.
At the utmost point of the mountain
is where I made my home.
My sisters rarely visited.
For the most I was alone.
I gazed upon the vale,
Watching the lives of little men
Thinking of the life I could have had,
If I’d been born as one of them.
But the fates had a plan for me
Which drew me down the tor.
They had a plan to destroy me,
To reveal the venom at my core.
I’d venture from my home sometimes,
To revel alongside mankind.
Amongst the drunken throng, you see,
Anonymity I would find.
No one saw my golden hair,
My face hidden in a mask.
To laugh and sing and dance to songs
Was my only happy task.
But a mid-June Panthenaia
Was where Poseidon spotted me.
Amidst Athena’s temple
He tore my dress with glee.
.
.
III.
I might have had a chance,
If I had been a titan.
If I’d had claws and a tail,
And the strength of a great python.
He kissed me harsh and fiercely
Freezing skin and bone.
Whilst cried for my mother.
Wished that I’d stayed home.
When Poseidon had filled the cup
And spilt mine on the floor
He left me crying, a sorry state,
Wanting me no more.
Athena understood me,
Because Athena is so wise.
She saw the anger in my stare
And burnt the venom on my thighs.
Athena gave me a choice,
To stay a mortal-torn.
Or curse me with a power which
Would make me a titan reborn.
If I had been a titan,
I might have had a chance.
So I accepted Athena’s gift to
Be able kill a man with a glance.
My golden hair recoiled,
Snakes sprung from my head.
Now anyone who touched me,
Would end up stone cold dead.
.
.
IV.
Perseus was a hero,
His start the same as mine.
His mother was a mortal,
But his father was divine.
Zeus, brother of my rapist,
Came to Danae one evening.
He showered her with soft kisses
In the form of a golden spring.
But King Acrisius of Argos
Had heard his fortune told
And believed Danae’s son would kill him
Before he could grow old.
When he learned Danae was pregnant,
He threw her in the sea.
Rescued by another king’s brother,
And as a hero raised to be.
King Polydectes fell in love with Danae,
But Perseus forbid their match.
The king would not give up easily,
And a plot began to hatch.
For the marriage of Hippodamia
He called people to bring offerings.
But for the horse tamer’s stable
Perseus could provide nothing.
Perseus was ashamed,
Unable to do his best.
So the King gave a command
And my head became his quest.
.
.
V.
I brought many men to ruin.
I was a formidable foe.
I was finally a monster
My family cared to know.
Rumours spread of my appearance
Many called it “punishment”.
But I knew Athena, wise Athena,
As only benevolent.
My appearance was grotesque,
I could turn men to stone.
And had I ever wanted,
I could have taken every throne.
I think Athena knew this.
She knew I’d never yield.
So when Perseus came for me,
She gave him a bronze shield.
Perseus fought bravely.
Fearless. Like a soldier.
And he swept that fatal blow
Took my head clean from my shoulders.
From my neck sprung my children
In a golden river flood.
Pegasus and Chrysaor
Of God and Gorgon blood.
Perseus took my head in a bag,
Carried it to his king.
Whilst Polydectes plotted revenge
Unaware of my continued sting.
.
.
VI.
Perseus was a hero
Everyone knew it to be true.
Having slain an evil monster,
His glory only grew.
He returned to Polydectes
Via Ethiopia
Plagued by Poseidon was this place
Full of drowning screams of fear.
For Poseidon had been insulted
And punished with fierce cruelty.
And only Andromeda could win the day
By sacrificing her beauty.
A story which sounds familiar
Yet she retains her fame.
Because rather than fight back, instead,
She let Perseus take the blame.
He killed a fearsome sea creature
He turned it to cold stone.
Then Andromeda’s father
Offered Perseus a home.
All the while I hung there,
My hair tangled in his hands.
Never getting the glory,
For saving those dry lands.
Athena took my head back
Placed me on her shield.
As a reminder to all women
Of the power that we wield.
.
.