The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew (eProof) - A startling coming-of-age novel set in a contemporary Nazi England.
Jessika Keller is a good girl: she obeys her father, does her best to impress Herr Fisher at the Bund Deutscher Mädel meetings and is set to be a world champion ice skater. Her neighbour Clementine is not so submissive. Outspoken and radical, Clem is delectably dangerous and rebellious. And the regime has noticed. Jess cannot keep both her perfect life and her dearest friend. But which can she live without?
THE BIG LIE is a thought-provoking and beautifully told story that explores ideas of loyalty, sexuality, protest and belief. From Goodreads.
I cannot even begin to tell you how incredible The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew is. An alt-history novel about what the world would be like today if the Nazis won World War II, this book is extremely thought-provoking, and unbelievably scary.
If you really think about, WWII wasn't that long ago. It ended only 70 years ago, no matter how far in the past it might seem to some of us. The Big Lie shows us the possible present world we could be living in had the Nazis won, and the world we're shown is terrifying - not just because of how awful it is, but because this could be our lives. It's not a dystopian novel set in very distant future, it's set now. Present day with a different past.
I don't want to talk too much about the plot, because this is very much a story whose horrors you shouldn't be prepared for, but I will talk about the important aspects of the book. The book is split into two parts. The first part - the only part I feel comfortable discussing without spoiling the story - shows us the history of Jess and Clem's friendship, and just exactly who these two girls are. Jess does her best to be the very best daughter of Germany she can be. She's passionate about doing what's right, and has such a huge love of Germany. Even though they live in Britain, it is now a German country, which is governed by the Fuhrer, who is worshipped like a god-like figure. The amount of brainwashing that has gone on through the years since the war is astounding. Britain is not a country "suffering" under the rule of the Fuhrer, but a country that was saved from it's corrupt government before Hitler freed it. The devotion Jess feels to her country and her role in society - as a young woman who will eventually be wife and mother, and who will keep her home and raise her children while her family works.
Clem, on the other hand is from an outspoken family who haven't been so brainwashed by all they've been fed. They have strange ideas that step outside the rules. Clem's family want change, and have brought up their daughter to think for herself and to question what she's told. So whereas Jess is blindly led by her authority figures - her parents and the leaders of her Bund Deutscher Mädel (the Nazi female youth organisation) - Clem can see what's not being said. And when she becomes victim to the rules of Nazi run Britain - having been given her date for the removal of her womb, as there's a chance she might produce "defective" children because her mother gave birth to an "imperfect" son who was taken away and killed (we're never really told exactly what problems their son had) - the whole family, and Clem in particular will not be silent.
The Big Lie has huge themes running throughout, and covers feminist issues, morality, deep female friendship, and questions about loyalty - to country, to your beliefs, to your friends. One wonderful aspect covered is Jess' questions about her sexual identity. I think I might be safe in saying Jess is a lesbian, but a label is never given, and Jess doesn't think about "homosexuality" in any real words. It's just her feelings and who she's attracted to, and who she falls in love with. Without spoiling the story, there is the possibility that Jess is bisexual; as I said, no labels are given, and there are moments with male characters, but I read those moments as Jess trying to be "normal", fit in, and stop feeling ashamed. There may be others who may have read it differently, though. Either way, the look at sexuality, discovering what and who you like, on it's own and in the world Jess lives in, was dealt with brilliantly.
What I also found really difficult to deal with was the Historical Notes on The Big Lie that comes at the end of the book. Mayhew talks about the various elements of the book that are true; the beliefs and actions of the Nazis being as they were back in WWII, but also the elements of the book that comes from present day world events. These appalling and disturbing events aren't from a period of history, they're happening today. We might think we live in a different world now, but we do not. Yes, we might be more accepting than we were, we might be, in some ways, better, but there a lot of things that simply have not changed, and there are injustices people are having to live with everyday. I implore you to read The Big Lie, and also to read Historical Notes on the Big Lie afterwards, and have your eyes opened to what is happening in the world, if you didn't already know, and think about this world we live in. I said at the beginning that this book is terrifying because this could have been our lives, but the truth of the matter is, in some parts of the world, for some people, this is their lives, this is their present.
An incredible and harrowing novel, The Big Lie is not a book to pass up, and not one, once read, you'll be able to ignore.
Thank you to Hot Key Books via NetGalley for the eProof.
Published: 27th August 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books
Julie Mayhew's Website