(**Spoilers ahead because it’s honestly much more fun reviewing something without having to dance awkwardly around the details**)
British author Ruth Ware’s third thriller, The Lying Game, was released on July 25, 2017, and was highly anticipated by fans of her previous hits, In a Dark, Dark Wood and The Woman in Cabin 10. If you were to follow in my footsteps and complete this novel, I assure you that by the end, you will be completely and utterly underwhelmed. Okay, I’m being dramatic, but why read a mediocre novel when there are great ones out there, right?
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General & Readability
The where: A boarding school and a mill in Salten. Which are very far from civilization. Save a small town full of old drunkards? Sounds smart to put a bunch of teenage girls near a town of rowdy old alcoholics. The when: Mostly present time with flashbacks to the past when the protagonists are in high school. The who: A tight-knit group of four friends you couldn’t care less about, with the most annoying one narrating the whole story (oh, joy!).
Firstly, I do have to give The Lying Game some credit. I was craving a really good suspense/thriller novel akin to The Girl on the Train, but was having a hard time finding one I could finish. I tried All the Missing Girls, but hated the characters too much to continue. I tried He Said/She Said, but the narrator kept meandering pointlessly, so I gave up. I tried The Break Down, but the writing was terrible and the story predictable to the max. Finally, I came across The Lying Game and found a book that was both well-written and intriguing, so I decided I wanted to actually finish it. That is a definite plus–however, having said that, the novel did take me weeks to read.
It was a very slow burn with nothing happening a lot of the time. I think I managed to stick around because I wanted to confirm my suspicions and because the writing is incredibly beautiful. There are very colorful descriptions that make it easy to envision the surroundings and acutely experience the environment the characters are in. I definitely think her writing is an advantage to The Lying Game, but it is not perfect. It felt a bit like she pulled moves a lot of amateur writers do when they do not know how to continue on with the story: put in random, unnecessary scenes and get trapped in their own flowery writing. I know. Because I am one of those writers, so I feel her. But she is a published author, so I would expect her not to do the same thing I do.
Plot & Characters
As for the plot, The Lying Game is not as predictable as, say, The Break Down, because there are a few different possibilities Ruth Ware hints at throughout, but it is still quite predictable. There are not many suspects, so I would say that any reader would have about a 33% chance of getting it right. The characters are not one-dimensional, but they aren’t particularly striking or memorable, either.
There’s Thea, who is the typical rebellious, wild one. In my opinion, she could be deemed the most stereotypical character. Oddly, though, for how bold she is depicted to be, Thea is the most passive and forgettable character in the novel. She is in her own world most of the time, which is surprising to me. There is a bit of an interesting dimension to Fatima because she is a born-again Muslim, but that part seems to have been haphazardly thrown in there without being fleshed out more. Kate is the tortured, sensitive artist, whose actions cannot be explained. She is just an enigma. I do not understand her.
Isa is the narrator and, as I said already, the most annoying one, and yay for us readers, we get to stay stuck in her head for the whole ride! She is self-centered and -righteous, often depicting herself as the victim. Even at the end, she easily discards her guilt and any responsibility for what had happened despite nothing having changed regarding her involvement in the business. At one point, I was so irritated by her odd obsession with her baby, Freya, who seems more like a demon child than a human baby, that I looked up reviews while I was still reading to see if others agreed. Turned out, yup, lots of people found Isa’s obsession weird, and Freya, a mere baby, was voted least popular character in the book. A baby.
That’s where the writing is a bit bad, actually, because there are too many paragraphs dedicated to Isa breastfeeding Freya, Freya on the verge of throwing a huge tantrum, and Isa worrying someone was going to “snatch Freya from her arms.” I think I saw the word “snatch” and “Freya” in the same paragraph about 100 times. No one wants your crazy baby, Isa. I tried to be understanding because I have no children so I don’t know the immense concern first-time mothers have, but there were actual mothers complaining about Isa and hating on Freya on goodreads, so then I felt better. To be fair, I’m sure there are many first-time moms who are overbearing like Isa and it makes sense that she feels paranoid and overprotective, but it really didn’t need to be shoved in my face every other page.
Plus, it was strange to me that Isa does not feel safe leaving Freya with the father, Owen, preferring to house her in a dilapidated mill that is literally days away from sinking into the water; take her on miles-long walks on rundown paths that disappear at high tide; and travel back and forth with her on a train over long distances. God forbid Owen get to watch her from the safety of their home where no sheep are being slaughtered or babies thrown out of windows because of raging fires. Oh no, Freya must be breastfed.
There were also lots of complaints online that the four women shouldn’t be this close because they only went to school together for a few months and haven’t seen one another in almost 20 years. However, I could believe their friendship because it isn’t so much the amount of time they were together but the quality of the time they spent together. From what I could tell from quite well-written scenes, the four got immensely close because they understood one another and had a similar need to escape their lives by running away to the mill. Their friendship was one of the highlights for me and one of the primary reasons I kept reading.
Moving onto the side characters, they are terribly one-dimensional. There aren’t many of them, mind you, but they are horribly developed. There’s Mary Wren, who seems more like a caricature than a real person, especially when described with her “twisted sneer” at the end. There’s Owen, whose character drastically changes so suddenly in the book, I’m left to think he has some personality disorder. I was confused as to how I was supposed to feel about him because Isa herself is confused. She would go back and forth between blaming him and understanding him. She would literally say, “I understand where he’s coming from–but still! How dare he?” almost like a child justifying herself. Owen’s sudden and rapid decline into a possessive, jealous, drunk control freak came from left field, as did Isa’s conclusion she does not love him despite painting him in only a positive light from the first page. Just leave her already, Owen, and take Freya with you. Maybe you can save her from the devil.
The worst side character, however, is Luc. The Lying Game feels like a strange combination of Gothic tales penned by women of classic literature. Firstly, the ambience, setting, and all scream Goth and reminded me of Jane Eyre. But we also get Wuthering Heights in the enigmatic, ill-tempered, and extremely foreign Luc. I’m being sarcastic about extremely foreign. He hails from France, but is often described as borderline barbaric, much like Heathcliff. He seems like a discount Heathcliff, basically. There is also the forbidden romance between foster siblings that end traumatically for all those involved (complete with the two lovebirds sharing a grave), so I kept thinking, “This is Wuthering Heights. But worse.”
Ending & Conclusion
The ending was not surprising at all. It was incredibly melodramatic, which made me roll my eyes and go, “Really? This happened?” It ended rather abruptly, somewhat predictably, and…strangely. I would have preferred a lot of the fluff from earlier in the book to have been removed for a more conclusive ending that provides actual closure. Even the book stating that the murderer was being impulsive and rash when killing Ambrose seemed more like an admittance that this whole thing was silly. Sure, people have killed for less, but I could not buy into Luc thinking the only option he had was to poison Ambrose. I was not convinced even though I could tell Ruth Ware was trying so hard to convince the readers his motive was motive enough (it was really not). Nor could I imagine the saintly Ambrose thinking, “Oh, Luc just killed me. Well, let me see how I can help him out here…,” and Kate deciding to die with Luc even though she showed only detachment or dislike toward him throughout the book. There was more focus on Isa’s lust for Luc than Kate’s feelings toward him.
In my conclusion, the book was not the worst, but was far from the best, landing in utter mediocrity. I know this was more of a rant than a review, but this book did make me want to rant. I feel like Ruth Ware is rushing to publish book after book, but to go with her beautiful writing, she should try to take time to flesh out a more intricate plot next time. But what do I know? I only wish I could write a novel like The Lying Game. Someday… Anyway, I look forward to her next projects.
What’s your rating? Mine is…
If you still decide to give it a go after ignoring everything I’ve told you because you’ve decided I’m a giant ignoramus, you can purchase a copy for yourself on Amazon. It is currently on sale for $12.54 (this ignoramus will be getting a small commission if you do so because capitalism).