Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Lie Tree

by Frances Hardinge

Story summary: A family whisked off to a tiny, grey island followed by whispers of scandal and deception. A father found dead under mysterious circumstances, his secrets lost and his family poverty-stricken. A girl struggling with faith in her father, religion, and own goodness. A tree that lives in darkness and feeds off lies to give truths the heart desires above all else.

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Very creepy, but in a good way (i.e. the creepiness makes you horrified at Evil in a way that is quite reasonable and healthy, imho)
  • Realistically and complexly drawn characters.
  • And of course, Hardinge's typical originality is present as always.

And Why You Might Not:
  • As a Catholic, it gets rather annoying how Evolution--very compatible with the Faith--is treated as something which pretty much inevitably leads to atheism.
  • It's a bit bleak. Faith (the main character) is treated rather badly by her family, and people are extremely condescending to her because she's female. I discuss this more below, but it definitely turned me off this book.

Thoughts: This is the first of France Hardinge's books that I haven't really enjoyed. Previously she was one of my few "auto-buy authors", authors that I can trust so much that I'll automatically buy any new book they come out with as soon as I can. And now... well, she's still one of my favourite living children's authors, but I'll probably read more reviews first to make sure I don't get my hopes up too much before hand.

I had three main issues with this book.

1) It was rather bleak. I divide Hardinge's books into two rough categories: her fantasy-universe books with brilliantly original world-building  (A Face Like Glass, Gullstruck Island, etc.) and her creepy horror/fantasy books set in the real(ish) world (Verdigris Deep, Cuckoo Song). I definitely prefer the first category, though so far I've still appreciated the originality--and yes, even bleakness--of the latter as well. But in this one (definitely of the creepy, real-world type) I got a bit tired of the unhappiness of most of the characters.

2) The treatment of belief in evolution as somehow incompatible with being a faithful Christian. Now these doubts the characters went through might be historically accurate for English Anglicans of that era. But I know that since the very early Church people have believed that Genesis need not be interpreted literally. St. Augustine even proposed an idea* which sounds remarkably like evolution, more than a millennium early. (The issues the Church has, despite what fundamentalists both atheist and Christian think, is not with the actual scientific theory of evolution, but with some more philosophical aspects of Darwinism, like the atheism often associated with it.)
I think I should state firmly though, I don't blame her for writing this. It was probably historically accurate for those particular circumstances, and at any rate reasonable for those particular characters in their particular situation. However it was emphasized a fair bit and thus decreased my enjoyment.

3) There was a large focus on the mistreatment of women, and thus on feminism. Now, I'm not against feminism per se (I am so glad it was easy and pleasant for me to go to university and live independently, but I also don't agree on a couple issues, like abortion, that tend to go along with Feminism). But I have been the recipient of almost no sexism whatsoever during my life. It ends up getting a little tedious (not to mention depressing) to have it concentrated on so much. This sounds kind of bad, like I don't like women's equality or something, but there it is. It made me enjoy it less. I prefer books that fight this by showing girls simply being equal to men, and not having to fight against sexism, because in that world sexism is obviously silly and who would be that silly? The kind of books that have a multitude of female scientists and soldiers without even discussing it.

But these issues are definitely personal issues for me. I'm not criticizing the writing itself (for the most part). Hardinge's originality is as stunning as usual, the characters very well drawn, and Faith's coming-of-age is real.
And the Lie Tree. So. Creepy.

Grade: 2 1/2 stars (2 stars for enjoyment, an extra 1/2 star for actually being well written)

*You have to scroll down to the middle of the article to read the quote, which is from Augustine's On the literal meaning of Genesis. I'm linking to this blog article because this is where I came across the quote first. Plus I like the author's views and it wouldn't hurt for more people to read him.

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