The Truth in a Lie by Jan Turk Petrie – Contemporary relationships in all their complexity

The Truth in a Lie by Jan Turk Petrie


Contemporary relationships can be complex, and families have secrets which go back over many years. This subtle and intelligent book takes a situation that many of us can understand, the illness of a parent, a nightmare journey in appalling weather, and a desire to discover something of the past. Charlotte is a writer, keen to grasp at the truth and aware that she has had difficult relationships in the past. That is not only the obvious situation with Michael, but also with Duncan, her ex husband, and her mother. Her most worrying relationship is with Kate, her daughter, as she is aware that her own instability is having a marked effect on Kate’s studies. This is a remarkable book as the author is so good at the little details, the food and drink, the furniture of various rooms, even the quality of light. The dialogue is also convincing, as it effectively reveals much about the person speaking, their attitudes and their relationships. I have been fortunate enough to read two of Petrie’s other novels, both set in the mid twentieth century, and have admired her ability to create a sense of place and time. I am impressed that her skill at setting the place and sense of people has translated to a contemporary novel, and I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book. 


This book begins in London 2018, as Charlotte moves out of the house that she and Kate have shared with Michael. While it has been a relatively amicable break up, Charlotte is aware that she is walking away from a significant part of her life, and making a new start in a very different home. When Duncan turns up she is thrown, but not only by his arrival, as the call comes through from the hospital that her mother is very ill. The description of waiting in the hospital is so accurate, and what subsequently happens is so believable, that it makes the rest of the book really powerful. The way that relationships emerge, old secrets brought out and new perspectives are created shows that this is a  cleverly constructed narrative that has much to say about Charlotte’s relationship with her mother, who it appears has a more complex background than was first apparent. Charlotte feels that she needs to find out what went on, and the writer’s imagination means that she can more than hazard a guess at some of the pressures on the woman she remembers from growing up. Her own relationship with Kate is dominated by an urge to protect, to  allow her freedom. There are some surprises to come, but they are all totally realistic, and emerge from the rest of the narrative. 


I found this an engaging story with so many aspects of life that are realistic and well realised. The character of Charlotte is so realistic as she narrates her story, noticing the small things as well as the dramatic moments. This is a book that I feel accurately portrays the complexities of modern relationships and life, and I recommend it as a solid engaging read.    


As I said above, this is the third of Petrie’s books that I have read, and I must say that I am a fan! I wondered about a historical novelist turning to a contemporary story, but I found this book so compelling that I finished it in two sittings. I think that the author only finished this book during lockdown, so I am hoping that she is already coming up with a new idea!

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