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December 18, 2013

Booklist Review, Past and Other Lies

From this month’s issue of Booklist, a review of Maggie Joel’s The Past and Other Lies:

Lies and secrets of the life-altering sort mark the lives of three pairs of sisters in successive generations. Although the narrative moves about chronologically between the 1920s, 1940s, 1980s, and the present, the pattern is established with Bertha and Jemima Flaxheed and betrayals that culminate in a death during England’s general strike of 1926. Bertha’s daughters, Caroline and Dierdre, reach maturity during WWII, when family secrets previously only hinted at are revealed during the bombing of London. In 1981 Dierdre’s daughters, Jennifer and Charlotte, keep a suicide attempt secret for decades until revealing it in an all-too-public manner. Here, in her first novel, Joel focuses more on the why of events than the facts that define them, a tactic used successfully in her second novel, The Second-Last Woman in England. But in her debut, momentum occasionally flags, and questions remain, except in the account of the Flaxheed sisters, which is drawn to a highly satisfactory conclusion. With this track record, Joel’s third novel should be highly anticipated.

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