Tuesday, 25 August 2015

The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew reviewed by Rhian Ivory



The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew


“I am a good girl. It is my most defining feature. And that’s the truth.”

What if the Nazis had won WWII? What if one girl could win it back? If only for herself…

Buckinghamshire 2014. Jessika Keller is one of the Third Reich’s shining lights. She is an exemplary member of the Bund Deutscher Mädel, a future figure skating champion and the apple of her father’s eye. But when her neighbour and lifelong friend Clementine challenges the regime, Jessika begins to understand the frightening reality of the society in which she lives.

The Big Lie is an alt-history thriller which asks readers to examine their own attitudes to feminism, sexuality and revolution.



One of the central themes in The Big Lie is of course the concept of lying and the lies we all tell, big and small, black or white. Mayhew repeatedly plays with the notion of lying by drawing characters who ‘leave out something that they didn’t realise was really very crucial to everyone else. That isn’t a lie. But it can be as bad as telling a lie.’

The protagonist Jessika Keller is a good girl who is driven by a desperate desire to please. Jess feels a huge responsibility to please her father and the patriarchy that dominates her world. When Jess’s feelings for her female friends start to change she knows this is something that must be kept from her father, she tries to reassure herself that this isn’t a lie, it is just leaving out something.

‘A very small victory. I knew something he didn’t.’

And these feelings are universal to all readers and ones we can identify with, that sensation of power, of knowledge and having secrets from your parents. Even though she has secrets Jess tries very hard to be outwardly normal, obeying the rules and making sure that those around her do the same, no matter what the cost to her friendship with Clementine.

‘Then Clementine said: ‘It’s hard for you…But at least I know what I am.’

Although Jess is living in what most readers would view as a nightmare scenario, to her it is normal life. Maintaining a sense of normality, being the very model of a perfect girl drives Jess on even when she knows that the biggest lie of all is the one she’s telling herself.

‘I had proved that I was normal, and special…I mustn’t let people get close to me. Only bad came of it.’

And there is no room in Jess’s life for questions about sexuality, feelings and desires because that’s not what she’s there for, her purpose and role have been clearly defined since birth. Jess knows how a good girl should think and speak and act because she’s been told so by the people in charge, the men who run The Bund Deutscher Mädel the organization set up to recruit teenage girls to adore and obey Hitler. Jess and the other recruits are shaped and molded into the future baby makers of Nazi Germany. Because of her upbringing Jess knows exactly the path she should take but when her best friend Clementine starts steering her off course Jess finds herself questioning not just her desires but her whole world.

Is it possible that everything she knows has been built on one big lie? Clementine’s revolution pushes Jess into a dark corner and the only way out is to accept that she can’t trust anyone’s truth because ultimately everyone lies.

‘In stronger moments, when I can be honest with myself, I know it can’t be true.’

This deeply intelligent and gripping novel poses one of the biggest and most frightening 'What If?' questions ever and examines through a microscopic lens feminism, sexuality and gender using the power of fiction to hold a mirror up to our own society. Mayhew sensitively analyses everything that determines who we are, our place in the world and allows the reader to consider what lies in the spaces between the past, the present and the future.

‘The moral was always implied and understood. It lived there in the Zwischenraum – that space between.’



About the author

Julie is an actress turned writer who still acts but mostly writes. 

She is an alumna of the Arvon/Jerwood Mentoring Scheme where she was tutored by Maria McCann.

Julie’s debut novel, Red Ink, was published by Hot Key Books in 2013, and was nominated for the 2014 CILIP Carnegie Medal and shortlisted for the Branford Boase Award 2014. Her second YA/Adult Crossover title, The Big Lie, will be published in August 2015.For radio, Julie has written three plays, including A Shoebox Of Snow which was nominated for Best Drama at the BBC Audio Drama Awards 2012 and shortlisted for the Nick Darke Award 2010 as a work in progress.

Julie is currently attached to Headlong theatre company as part of their first, invitational Writers’ Group.


About the reviewer

Rhian was born in Swansea but hasn't stayed put anywhere for very long. She trained as a Drama and English teacher and wrote her first novel during her first few years in teaching.

She got her first publishing deal at 26 and went on to write three more novels for Bloomsbury.
The Boy who drew the Future is her fifth novel and she’s recently finished writing her sixth.  

 She is a National Trust writer in residence, a WoMentoring mentor and a Patron of Reading.

You can follow Rhian on Twitter and on Facebook.



No comments:

Post a Comment