The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew

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Whoops, this review is up later than usual – please forgive me! Today’s book to be reviewed is The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew.

The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew Book Review - Famous in Japan

The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew

Publication Date: 27 August 2015
Publisher: Hot Key Books

A shocking story of rebellion and revelation 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 and protest.

I have been guilty of hoarding The Big Lie on my Kindle for far too long. I originally attempted to read it when I first downloaded it, but as I wasn’t in the mood for reading I didn’t get into it and quickly put it down. Even though I went on to read other books, this book remained at the back of my mind. After my guilty conscience caught up with me, I decided that I needed to get it read so I sat down one evening and made myself start it. I ended up staying up very late the same night to finish it as I got completely sucked into the story.

The Big Lie tells the story of Jessika, a champion ice skater with her whole life planned out for her. She will attend skate school, represent Britain in tournaments and competitions, and marry a nice man and have children.  However, these plans begin to unravel when she begins to develop feelings for her best friend Clementine.   Oh, did I mention the book takes place is in 2014 Nazi England? The Big Lie imagines what life would be like had Germany won the war; an alternative world. I am a bit of a ghoul and I love books that cover World War 2, Nazi Germany in particular, so I was very interested to hear of this book.

Google tells me that the name of the novel comes from:  “A big lie (German: Große Lüge) is a propaganda technique. The expression was coined by Adolf Hitler, when he dictated his 1925 book Mein Kampf, about the use of a lie so “colossal” that no one would believe that someone “could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously”.  I think this describes the topics and theme of this novel perfectly and I couldn’t think of a better name.

I think the plot may have been a bit stronger if the novel was set during the war, rather than in 2014. There wasn’t much talk of modernisation e.g. computers. It was as if Britain had stayed the same for years after the war had ended with absolutely no advancement in science or technology, which seemed a little backwards to me personally.  Being honest, I would have preferred it if the book was set in Germany than England; there wasn’t anything that warranted the plot being set in England in my view.

Jessika, as a protaganist and narrator, is at times quite unlikable and frustrating.  However, I did sympathise with her when her feelings for her best friend went unrequited and times, rubbed in her face.  Whilst I was initially annoyed at the way she tried to be perfect all the time, her actions were believable and true to her character. Being the daughter of a top ranking official in the regime, it is understandable she would try her best not to disappoint or go against her dad and the regime.   Her dad in particular is a strong influence on Jessika, which impacts on her relationship with Clementine.   You will hate him, I promise.

The synopsis mentions Jessika trying to impress Herr Fisher, her superior, but to me it felt that Herr Fisher was pushing himself on to Jessika, and Jessika accepting it simply because he was her superior; she wanted to be a good girl.  There was no love or compassion from either of them and it didn’t come across as being a genuine, believable relationship on the part of Jessika. Even the girl Jessika has some relations with isn’t thought about too much.  It seems Jessika only had strong feelings, possibly even love, for Clementine.

Oh, Clementine!  Clementine is quite the little conspiracy theorist!  She is one of the strongest characters in the novel.  She doesn’t accept the world as it is fed to her. Clementine knows of the horrors that were committed during the war. She has access to banned magazines and music. She writes essays in school criticising the regime. She alludes to communicating with people outside of the regime.  As the novel goes on, Clementine becomes more desperate to rebel and fight back against the system.   I found myself cheering Clementine on, applauding her bravery and dedication to exposing the regime to her peers, no matter how far she had to go to do so.    Jessika is torn between the loyalty and love she has for her friend, the duty she feels towards her father to be a good girl, and to the regime to be a good citizen.

I definitely agree with the synoposis that the story is told beautifully.   The narration takes on a dance, particularly towards the climax of the novel,  flitting between the past, present and future.

The Big Lie was an interesting read to say the least, and it definitely gave me a lot to think about. Like I mentioned previously, I did find The Big Lie hard to get into at first, so I would recommend sticking with it and not letting yourself be put off by the slow beginning.  Once I got into the story, I didn’t want to put it down – the phrase “just a few more pages” was uttered many times.  I would recommend it to fans of the YA genre, and any fellow ghouls who love this type of fiction.  I’m sure I’m not the only one… right?

Dannie x

A copy of The Big Lie was provided in exchange for an honest review. No further compensation received.

October 26, 2015
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  • Reply Jess

    This sounds like exactly my type of book! I really love anything to do with the Nazis, the concept of ‘what if they’d won’ is so fascinating to me.

    Jess xo

    October 26, 2015 at 10:38 pm
  • Reply Lu

    Clem is too reckless to be realistic unless she was already aware that she and her parents are utterly doomed. Then, the only thing to do would be to go out with a public splash—but the place she chose was too controlled. (Had the concert’s VPN alluded to in the story really been up, her gesture might have worked. If the rockstar’s people had imagery of her immolation, that might also have worked, but more slowly.)

    Jessika plays the simpleton unconvincingly. Her society is on the edge of catastrophe, and she plays clueless, yet writes a confessional narrative that would only interest Americans or internal „Staatsfeinden“ in her story. She mentions a place Clem and her parents visited by the Cornish coast—is she planning to make contact with the people Clem’s parents were in contact with, either to defect, or bring a link to the outside world into her walled-off society? (Clem’s parents seem to have been American intelligence assets. They seem to even have enjoyed some sort of satellite network access.)

    Jessika isn’t ever quite aboveboard with us—and she daren’t be. The need her to censor herself makes Jessika act as unthinkingly as the people who actually accept her totalitarian society. Still, she seems to need writing her narrative to help put her thoughts in order, even if doing so will endanger her life.

    Jessika’s other other real romantic interest, GG, seems undeveloped and ambiguous. If I had been Jessika’s girlfriend, I would have fought with her to prevent her from allowing any copies of her flyer out of the copy room. Jessika would have gone under the „Fallbeil“ rather quickly for her expression of defiance—Sophie Scholl went to the guilliotine only four days after her arrest. A year behind wire, as Jessika suffers, is rather lenient if the Reich’s provinces are hanging people publicly. Failing to tie off the loose end of whatever happened to GG is regrettable.

    And one minor factual quibble: being on the academic track, i.e., being an „Abitur“ candidate, would not exempt a girl from Labour Service between her secondary schooling and university.

    I should stop complaining and wonder whether there will be a sequel.

    May 19, 2017 at 9:07 pm
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