We’re always bound to the past in one way or another. No matter how much time has passed, there are certain defining moments in our life – ten, twenty, fifty years on, it is these moments we keep coming back to. For best friends Kate, Thea, Fatima and Isa, who meet when boarding together at Salten, the events of one summer will alter their lives forever.
The girls are drawn together from their very first day, quickly isolating themselves from the other girls at the school and becoming drawn into the ‘lying game’. Play to win points – and the higher the stakes, the greater the respect gained. The game binds them together, and they spend all their time in each other’s company over at the Mill, where Kate lives with her Dad – the enigmatic art teacher Ambrose, and her French step-brother Luc.
It is within their unbreakable friendship that they find solace, escape from the external pressures of the world. Until something happens that changes their lives forever; that abruptly tears them apart. Seventeen years will pass before they are brought back together again, back to Salten, back to where it all began. They all get a text from Kate: I need you. So they come running.
‘It is late. We have dragged ourselves from the water, laughing and cursing, scraping our shins on the splintered rotten wood, and we have towelled our hair and dried our goose-bumped skin. Fatima has changed out of her wet clothes, shaking her head at her own stupidity, and now we are lying sleepily on Kate’s threadbare sofa in our pyjamas and dressing gowns, a tangle of weary limbs and soft worn throws, gossiping, reminiscing, telling the old stories: Do you remember…?’
Ruth Ware is a master at creating atmosphere, all so often in claustrophobic, unsettling spaces that become as integral to the book as the characters themselves. In a Dark, Dark Wood, her first novel, takes place almost entirely inside a house made of glass, and The Woman in Cabin 10 is confined to the enclaves of a cruise ship. The Lying Game is no different in this regard – the claustrophobic coastal town where Kate lives, in a dilapidated, towering home set against the backdrop of a rising and falling tide, creates an ominous tone, and the little village is the place where nothing changes, where nothing you said or did is ever forgotten.
‘But I don’t. I don’t try to justify what I’m doing. I just let go of the present, let the current tug it from my fingers, and I let myself sink down, down into the past, like a body falling into deep water, and I feel myself drowning, the waters closing over my head as I sink, and I don’t even care.’
I have found before that Ware’s prior novels, as enjoyable as they are, tend to run out of steam towards the end, that she isn’t quite able to sustain the tension and keep the reader on their toes for as long as she should. However, I feel that in The Lying Game she retains good control over the pace and plot – and that this her strongest work to date; a haunting exploration of the bonds of female friendship, the heady years of youth, and the inescapable nature of the past.