The unreliable narrator is alive and well in Elizabeth Kay’s debut Seven Lies. Jane comes right out and warns the reader up front that she is not particularly reliable. And while she highlights the seven lies that she wants to talk about, there is plenty more lying going on that she admits to. For those who like this sort of thing, whether anything can really be believed about this narrative always remains up for grabs.
Jane is telling the story of her relationship with Marnie, and in particular how Marnie’s husband George, who Jane freely admits that she hated, came to die. This death is foreshadowed for a long time before it actually happens, so is no surprise, and then serves as the fulcrum around which the second half of the book turns.
Jane and Marnie have been friends since the first day of high school, a friendship that survived schooling into university and beyond, to the point where as adults they still seem to share everything. That is, until Marnie starts to see George and Jane finds herself increasingly frozen out of her friend’s life. Only Jane herself has essentially been there – she fell in love and was in (the reader assumes) a stable happy relationship until her husband died in a traffic accident. Despite this, Jane has no empathy for Marnie, taking against George from their first meeting, as the fly in their relationship’s ointment.
It is hard to talk about more of this book without revealing spoilers. And maybe none of that matters. The problem with unreliable narrator tales is that by the end it is hard to know how much is true and how much the narrator has made up to justify their own actions. And sure, while all fiction is essentially a “created story”, when you are forced (by the narrator herself) to question every event, it is even harder to suspend disbelief.
Seven Lies is an interesting study in pathology. Jane is clearly not a well woman, and she freely admits that her obsession with Marnie is possibly not all that normal or healthy. But this self awareness never stops her from not only doing what she does (assuming she did those things) but also from justifying it both in the moment and subsequently. Readers’ capacity to stick with Jane’s story will depend on their willingness to spend time with a character like this. For those who still hanker for Gone Girl levels of unreliable narration, Seven Lies will definitely scratch an itch. Others may just want to head back to find fictional characters they can both believe and believe in.