The next book in my Orenda week feature is new review of a brilliant book; a rather emotional tale of a dysfunctional marriage and the lengths people will go to in order to cover up the truth.
Now I will be up front and tell you that, this review contains mild spoilers, so if you are unaware of the basic themes of this book, and want to read it and be completely spoiler free, then do not carry on reading this. There. Warned you. I’ve done my bit… Still with me? Then welcome.
Andy Boyd is a single father. Widowed after his wife died in childbirth, he has raised his son Pat alone, prioritising his needs over everything and truly believing his one chance at true love had come and gone. Until he met Anna.
Convinced by his brother to join him and his friends on a rare night out, Andy is instantly taken with the stranger he meets in a nightclub. She is beautiful and funny and when he finally introduces her to Pat, is so perfect with him that he’s certain that he may just have found his second chance of happiness. After a whirlwind romance they marry and it is only then that Andy begins to really understand his bride. To see the truth she had kept hidden.
Spending his wedding night in hospital was just the result of an unfortunate accident. Wasn’t it? Andy loves Anna and she loves him. He has to accept that, to believe that he can forgive anything in order to keep his family together. And when Anna tells him that she is pregnant, it is even more important that they stay together. But just how much can Andy forgive, and will staying silent about what is happening end up costing him everything?
‘A Suitable Lie’ is a beautifully written, often harrowing tale. From the very first page I was engaged and invested in Andy. He was such a personable character, so in love with his son, that you couldn’t help but like him and feel for him. When he met Anna, I was happy for him, but that meant meeting the ‘real’ Anna was all the more shocking. And this is where Michael J. Malone has created a true work of art. This is domestic noir flipped on it’s head and it is tragically, shockingly brilliant.
Andy is not oblivious to the subject of domestic abuse; one of his employees has suffered at the hands of her husband for years, and Andy has to help her deal with the aftermath. But that is the normal, and I am loathe to say ‘understood’ face of domestic or spousal abuse. The man against the woman. The strong aggressor against the weaker sex. So when Andy becomes the victim, his smaller, ‘weaker’ wife the aggressor, there is an extra layer of shame that he feels, not just from the beatings he endures or the guilt he is made to feel, but the embarrassment of allowing someone so much smaller to dominate him. He cannot speak to anyone, not even his colleague, because he knows they will not believe him. It’s simply not possible. The setting and Andy’s stature perhaps adds another layer of disbelief to his story, as he is a burly, rugby playing Scotsman, not typically the kind of person you would accept could allow this to happen.
The idea of spousal abuse, wife to husband, may be more accepted these days, more reported and more likely to be prosecuted, but when you bear in mind this book is set in the late 1990’s, the lack of action, the lack of belief by anyone that Andy could possibly be a victim, is completely understandable. There are many themes touched upon in the book that are very telling of this period in history, where the world was just starting to wake up to political correctness, and anything outside of the norm was treated with suspicion or derision. Malone has captured this era perfectly, and the acceptance of Anna’s behaviour by Andy, the reluctance to retaliate is all the more poignant because he is doing it to set an example to his sons. His love for Pat and his younger brother is beautiful and all consuming. He will not physically stop Anna because he understands his power, how he could hurt her. He will not leave her because he knows he will lose his sons. And part of him still loves her, the part that knows that deep down she is hurting and scared too.
Malone has built up a brilliant character in Anna too. Yes she is psychotic, controlling, jealous, but her back story is also tragic and disturbingly real. Reading about it was very hard for me as there were so many echoes of my own childhood in those pages that I had to form an almost clinical detachment in order to read on. I recognise much of my own youthful anger in Anna and it is strange to be able to empathise with someone who can be so cruel. And yet I do. And I am glad that I did read on. Malone does not play any aspect of the violence for shocks. It is written so simply, so sympathetically, that it is this understated way of relaying what has happened that makes the imagery all the more evocative, more shocking. It reflects Andy’s peaceful nature, so that the words you read are far more jarring.
If you are a victim of domestic abuse or suffered a violent childhood then I do advise caution while reading. But I also think you should read this book. It is a truly moving story and brought forth such a range of emotions in me. I could feel myself welling up at times and at others, as I said earlier, I had to read with clinical detachment, but this is a purely personal experience. I could often feel my heart pounding in my chest, willing Andy to find a way, willing him to take action, desperate for Anna not to defeat him, and stunned by the cruel way in which everything could so easily be taken away. But no matter what I was feeling about the book, I simply could not walk away. I read this in one single afternoon. I shall remember it for much longer. A stunning book, this is another truly beautiful offering from the Orenda stable.
A deeply moving, tragically beautiful 5 stars.
My thanks to Karen Sullivan at Orenda for my copy of this book.
‘A Suitable Lie’ is available to purchase at the following links.
About the Author
Michael Malone is a prize-winning poet and author who was born and brought up in the heart of Burns’ country, just a stone’s throw from the great man’s cottage in Ayr. Well, a stone thrown by a catapult. He has published over 200 poems in literary magazines throughout the UK, including New Writing Scotland, Poetry Scotland and Markings. His career as a poet has also included a (very) brief stint as the Poet-In-Residence for an adult gift shop. Blood Tears, his bestselling debut novel won the Pitlochry Prize (judge: Alex Gray) from the Scottish Association of Writers.
Other published work includes: Carnegie’s Call (a non-fiction work about successful modern-day Scots); A Taste for Malice; The Guillotine Choice; and Beyond the Rage. His poetry includes: In The Raw, Running Threadsand Lip Synch. Michael is a regular reviewer for the hugely popular crime fiction website www.crimesquad.com. A former Regional Sales Manager (Faber & Faber) he has also worked as an IFA and a bookseller. A Suitable Lie was published by Orenda Books in September 2016.