At theThe Past and Other Lies height of Britain’s General Strike in 1926 a red double-decker bus driven by a volunteer crashes into a low bridge in West London. Almost 80 years later, Jennifer Denzel reveals on daytime television that as a teenager she’d found her sister Charlotte hanging by a school tie in their bedroom. 

Their grandmother Bertha dreams of a distant time: of a young man she met at a Socialist rally, an unexpected wedding and of a sister, long dead. Meanwhile her daughter, Deirdre, remembers a night during the War 40 years earlier when a V-2 rocket destroyed an entire street, and when she made a shocking discovery. 

Brimming with vivid detail of London past and present, full of warmth, atmosphere and subtle wit with exquisite surprises.

Generational novels can be tricky. They can make for enthralling storylines that follow family members through wide spans of time and historically significant events, but if the writer is not skilled enough, the reader can be left in a confusing limbo and the book simply gets closed.

The Past and Other Lies chronicles three generations of sisters and an intriguing set of lies and omissions that follow them through theirs lives. Unfortunately, Joel has not stuck with a chronological order and the story weaves back and forth, inside and out in an always changing pattern.

Does it work? Well, half our group believes so. They loved it, and although it challenged their capacity to follow the characters, Joel was able to entice them on to enjoy an exceptionally poignant and well written novel. Some of us made things a little easier and took notes of characters and their relationships. So if you were to get a little lost, a quick glimpse and you were back on track!

There were a few members that were not so taken with The Past. Some comments made were, ‘not a strong enough storyline’, ‘not engaging enough’, and ‘too hard to follow’. When questioned, these readers felt Joel no doubt had talent for this kind of writing, but the story just did not absorb them enough to make the effort. Fare call. To enjoy any novel, you need to care about the story and its people. If this does not happen, well, as I said before, the book closes.

Our group went on to have a worthwhile discussion on female familial relationships, in particular, sisters. We came away with what could be called a somewhat complex and mystifying conclusion that did little to answer our questions, but turned out to be great therapy in any case!

 

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