Monday, March 24, 2014

Review: The First True Lie by Marina Mander

A child wakes up one morning to find that his mother has died during the night and he determines to hide her death. This sounds like a terribly depressing premise for a novel, doesn't it? This is in fact the premise of Marina Mander's novel, The First True Lie. Make no mistake, it is a depressing novel, a heartbreaking read, but it is also very well written and captivating to be inside the head of a child as he creates the fa├žade of the life he wishes he were still leading.

Luca is ten years old and he lives in an apartment with his silent and depressed mother and their cat, Blue. His father disappeared long ago and although Luca's mother brings home "trial dads," none of them last. In fact, Luca's mother seems to have no one save her young son and one friend who leaves on holiday just as the story begins. So when Luca realizes that his mother has not in fact woken up one morning, and, in fact, will never again wake-up, he has no one to confide in, no one to rescue him, no one to help him. Fearing that if his mother's death was to be known he would be sent to an orphanage and his precious cat taken from him, he resolves to go about life as usual, closing the door on his mother's corpse and only dwelling on it when he can't escape the thoughts.

Told entirely from Luca's point of view, the reader is privy to all his thoughts and feelings. And while his mother's death and the inevitable decline of her body in the next bedroom is a horrific undertone to the novel, Luca is very much an imaginative and wonderful child. He likes testing out some pretty impressive swear words. He's got the beginnings of a crush on a girl in his class. And he loves and cares for himself and his cat as only the child of an adult who is frequently incapacitated can do. It is heart rending to watch him reason with himself that he needs to bathe and to brush his teeth so that no one notices anything amiss with him and looks into the situation. His care and concern for his little cat is touching and poignant. Yet it is slightly macabre to see him reason out how he can possibly have a friend over to work on homework without having to explain his mother's absence and how to dismiss his friend's suggestion that the apartment smells a little badly. Luca has long been fairly self-sufficient and his coping skills in the face of this terrible event are impressive but it is sad to see that a child his age is as capable of denial as any fully grown adult is.

Mander's Luca is both older than ten and younger than ten in his reactions and response to his mother's death. His thoughts can be quite mature but then he will do or think something that reminds the reader that he is in fact still a child, a precocious child, but a child none the less. The novel is slight but compelling reading and the unfinished nature of the ending really works in the context of the story, leaving Luca's fate undetermined, his fears neither confronted nor dismissed. The First True Lie will stay with you for a long time after you turn the last page.

1 comment:

  1. Oh wow, this is different. I usually don't read books with such young protagonists but i'm really curious about this one. A child making the decision to keep his mother's death hidden so he can stay out of an orphanage sounds nothing like what i'd expect him to do. I'm definitely curious about this book. Good review.


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