Just finished this. Initial impressions below! These are very, very spoilery btw.
- What happened is telegraphed pretty early on. While the exact details aren’t clear, I found it really easy to get the general gist of what was going on.
- The writing is like a mashup of Lockhart’s Ruby Oliver books (which are my favourite forever) and the things I liked about The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks (which is otherwise easily my least favourite book of hers - I pretty much loathe it). It occasionally has the humour of the RO books and it has the wordplay that I liked in FLB.
- Really, the writing is just amazing.
- I liked Cady’s characterisation. I definitely felt like I got the sense of who she was.
- However, I felt like the other characterisation was probably a bit flat. As is often the case in E. Lockhart books (even Ruby Oliver), the parents in this one are pretty terrible people but the narrative implies that you ought to feel sympathy with them which I just don’t. I’m sorry, but these are literally awful people and if the point was supposed to be "they fuck you up, your mum and dad" it certainly doesn’t come across that way. So much of the blame for the behaviour (not just in this book but in all of her books) feels like it is taken away from the parents and laid on the children.
- I liked Gat, but I don’t really understand what the whole allegory to Heathcliff was all about. I mean, I understand because of the patriarch of the family’s reaction to his race that he is an “outsider” in the same way that Heathcliff was, but what I don’t get is the part where Gat outright says that Harris is right about him, that he is Heathcliff. That sort of implied that he had the dark side in the way that Heathcliff had, but this is never shown. This made me think that somehow he was going to be primarily responsible for what happened, but he wasn’t. In fact, his presence really lessens in the latter half of the book, and while I get how that works thematically with other things in the book, it really does not work with the parallel with WH.
- I don’t think it was realistic that Cady never mentioned that she’d been seeing the other Liars to anyone. I get that she doesn’t get on with her mum and shuts her out, but you’d think it would have come up?
- I kind of hated the implication that her mum had any redeeming qualities at all, because they certainly weren’t represented in the book. She came across as a completely horrendous human being, as did her sisters (with the possible exception of the exceptionally spineless Carrie).
- I also don’t like that the suffering of the three sisters and the grandfather is so black and white and doesn’t even seem to change them, much. In this way, it reminded me of Before I Fall. It’s hard to explain what I mean, but I’ll try. The three sisters behaved in a horrible, grasping manner. So they each lose their eldest child (and Gat, who I’ll come on to again in a minute). It’s such a biblical level punishment that all it does is make them feel sorrier for themselves. Now, of course it’s a terrible thing to happen to someone. I’m not arguing that it isn’t. But it’s too terrible. It’s too dramatic. Because it’s almost impossible to feel sorry for the sisters, but you also can’t say they got their just desserts. So it just leaves you with a bit of a nasty, empty taste in your mouth.
- Finally, what is the story of Gat supposed to teach us? I don’t get that either. What about Gat’s family (his real family)? What about Gat’s friends? This could have been a really interesting exploration of privilege but all the avenues it could have gone down were closed by the premise.
I liked this book. A lot. But like a lot of Lockhart’s other work, it’s far more about the concept than the characters (outside of the main character). The Ruby Oliver books are the only books where I felt I got a true idea of the other characters outside of the narrator - I could see who they were despite Ruby seeing them from her perspective. However, each individual book Lockhart has written since then has had an interesting premise, flawless prose, a great main character (with the exception of FLB, whom I would gladly kick in the shins) and then no depth whatsoever. This is definitely the best of the rest, and I read within about two hours this afternoon, so it’s definitely one that would keep you going, but I feel like it was missing something to really bite into.
Honestly? My biggest problem with the whole thing is that I think she made the safe choice with the narrative. My assumption from the cover and what was a certainty within about ten pages was a “dead-all-along” scenario. But my feeling is that it is braver to have the characters live to overcome the awfulness of their parents than to kill them, to deal with the prejudices and problems at hand, than to erase their existence. I don’t know. Definitely a good book, probably a very good one. But I find myself wanting more than just a plot twist. I give We Were Liars seven out of ten.