All Your Little Lies by Marianne Holmes – a contemporary thriller of one person coping with layers of feeling

All Your Little Lies by Marianne Holmes 

Annie is a quiet, self contained person with secrets that even she doesn’t understand. She lives alone in a little house, has a particular attachment to her boss, Paul, and has one friend, Lauren. She has an evening when she makes a few misjudgements and everything changes for the worse. It is the evening when Chloe Hills disappears, and the search for the girl intrigues and entices, leading Annie into an excited involvement. This is a book of missing elements, of an interwoven story, of a woman who struggles with people. Other novels recently have depicted those who have a strict routine, a lonely life, but this book adds the hint of an old secret. I found it an intense read, the character of Annie which shifts and moves, full of the details of her observations of other people which continually run through the narrative. This is an absorbing book which engages the reader into the point of view of Annie, as she is continually trying to second guess what other people are thinking of her, suspecting her of, and what will happen as a result. Her sense of what she may be guilty of during the evening that Chloe disappears fills the book, and her loneliness and desperation makes this a disturbing read. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to read and review this memorable novel. 

The novel begins with Annie using Paul’s keys to effect and entry to his flat. Not that she knows why she is doing it; she does not want to take anything, wreck his home or take revenge, despite his treatment of her earlier which emerges over the next few pages of the novel. She meets her friend Lauren who she is desperate to see, especially as she has few other friends . Typically Lauren can spare only a few minutes, and it is with a renewed sense of loneliness that Annie travels home. It is then that she sees a picture which immediately triggers a reaction. A twelve year old girl is missing, and Annie has the feeling that she is somehow involved. Almost inadvertently Annie turns up for a search party for the girl, meeting other people on a new basis. She struggles to say things which are appropriate, and fears she has upset  a few people, those who she desperately wants to become friendly with as an antidote to her extreme loneliness.  

This intense and significant book is a stunning read; full of the small details that build up to an in depth picture of a woman in a challenging situation. Annie is a memorable and somewhat disturbing character who has many layers to a character beyond shyness. This is a book which piles up the pressure and the tension as a thriller with real human insight. The understanding of the character is immense and powerful as it shapes the novel that we appreciate from her point of view. It is not written in her voice, but describes her so closely that it almost feels like it is telling the story. The slight distance allows another story to be inserted, completely different from what is going on in the main narrative. This is a powerful book which I recommend to anyone who is interested in how a personality can find deep trouble in a situation through many strands of confusion and more.  

A Little Bird Told Me by Marianne Holmes – The past as a long hot summer

“We are all about secrets in this family”. Every family has its secrets, but in this novel they combine with a child’s view of the world and very adult desire for revenge to present a traumatic yet touching picture of a long ago summer which is full of drama and incident. The impact on the present of events twelve years previously means that nothing and no one is as it seems. Growing up in 1970s Britain was challenging enough, but the small town here depicted in the long hot dry summer of 1976 is an unforgiving place when people behave in unconventional ways. Bullying children is one element, but when this becomes mixed up with adult fear and hatred the claustrophobia of a community would become unbearable, if it was not for the essential spark of human kindness which survives, even when it comes at a high cost. I was happy to receive a copy of this book which gives such a strong picture of late twentieth century life.

Robyn, the “Little Bird” of the title, is a nine year old girl during the summer of 1976. She spends idyllic days at the pool with her much loved older brother Kit, sometimes her unconventional mum and her friend Debbie. Her family is made complete by Matthew, who is her mum’s partner. There are problems, however, as the “WendyCarols”, older girls bully her, and her mother has a disturbing way of inviting strange women who weep into the house. When Robyn is an unwilling witness to an altercation between her mum and Mr Mace over one such woman and her son, the whole situation suddenly becomes complicated. Worse still, Robyn has been approached by a man in a cowboy hat who seems keen to upset her family by handing over mysterious items. The scene then moves to 1988, when Kit and Robyn return to the family home which has apparently stood empty for twelve years, with their belongings boxed up. It becomes obvious that Robyn and to an extent Kit are desperate to find something or someone, even as it becomes obvious that there are those in the small town who are angered by their return. Robyn searches archives and places newspaper advertisements as the scene swops between the two years, but in both there are deep feelings and even violence.

This is not a wholly grim tale. There are some decent people in both time frames, willing to risk much for others. There is a sense of nostalgia for a childhood of sun and parties, drawing sketches and being with friends. Hope for resolution propels the narrative, as the reader and the participants both discover the truth together. This is a sensitively written book of long held grudges and fear, with perhaps a little too much violence which tends to dilute the effect. Generally I found this book moving and absorbing, and it certainly maintained my interest throughout. The recent past is a fascinating study here and the picture of childhood confusion is well created.

It is a real pleasure to take part in the blog tour for this book, and I found this an engaging story, well written and creating a very full atmosphere.

Meanwhile, over at he seems to have started posting furiously – I am struggling to keep up!