—Lucy Foley, author of The Guest List, a Hello Sunshine x Reese Witherspoon Book Club Pick
Keep the lights on—you'll be turning pages deep into the night with this one."
—Harlan Coben, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Run Away
It all started with just one little lie. But we all know that it never ends there. Because, of course, one lie leads to another. . .
Growing up, Jane and Marnie shared everything. They knew the other’s deepest secrets. They wouldn't have had it any other way. But when Marnie falls in love, things begin to change.
Because Jane has a secret: She loathes Marnie’s wealthy, priggish husband. So when Marnie asks if she likes him, Jane tells her first lie. After all, even best friends keep some things to themselves. If she had been honest, then perhaps her best friend's husband might still be alive today. . .
Seven Lies is Jane’s confession of the truth—her truth. Compelling, sophisticated, chilling, it’s a seductive, hypnotic page-turner about the tangled, toxic friendships between women, the dark underbelly of obsession, and what we stand to lose in the name of love.
|Publisher:||Penguin Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
And that's how I won her heart," he said, smiling. He leaned back in his chair, lifting his hands behind his head, expanding his chest. He was always so smug.
He looked at me, and then at the idiot sitting beside me, and then turned back again to me. He was waiting for us to respond. He wanted to see the smiles stretch across our faces, to feel our admiration, our awe.
I hated him. I hated him in an all-encompassing, burning, biblical way. I hated that he repeated this story every time I came to dinner, every Friday evening. It didn't matter who I brought with me. It didn't matter which degenerate I was dating at the time.
He always told them this story.
Because this story, you see, was his ultimate trophy. For a man like Charles-successful, wealthy, charming-a beautiful, bright, sparkling woman like Marnie was the final medal in his collection. And because he was fueled by the respect and admiration of others, and perhaps because he received neither from me, he wrenched them instead from his other guests.
What I wanted to say in response, and what I never said, was that Marnie's heart was never his to win. A heart, if we're being honest, which I finally am, can never be won. It can only be given, only received. You cannot persuade, entice, change, still, steal, steel, take a heart. And you certainly cannot win a heart.
"Cream?" Marnie asked.
She was standing beside the dining table holding a white ceramic jug. Her hair was pinned neatly at the top of her neck, loose curls around her cheeks, and her necklace was twisted, the clasp beside the pendant, hanging together against her breastbone.
I shook my head. "No, thanks," I said.
"Not you," she replied, and she smiled. "I know not you."
I want to tell you something now, before we begin. Marnie Gregory is the most impressive, inspiring, astonishing woman I know. She has been my best friend for more than eighteen years-our relationship is legally an adult; able to drink, marry, gamble-ever since we met at secondary school.
It was our first day and we were queuing in a long, thin corridor, a line of eleven-year-olds worming their way toward a table at the other end of the hall. There were groups huddled at intervals, like mice in a snake, bulging from the orderly, single-file line.
I was anxious, aware that I knew no one, psychologically preparing myself for being alone and lonely for the best part of a decade. I stared at those groups and tried to convince myself that I didn't want to be part of one anyway.
I stepped forward too fast, too far, and stood on the heel of the girl in front. She spun around. I panicked; I was sure that I was about to be humiliated, shouted at, belittled in front of my peers. But that fear dissipated the moment I saw her. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but Marnie Gregory is like the sun. I thought it then; I often think it now. Her skin is shockingly fair, a porcelain cream tempered only occasionally-after exercise, for example, or when she is overwhelmingly content-by rosy pink cheeks. Her hair is a deep auburn, twisted into spirals of red and gold, and her eyes are a pale, near-white blue.
"Sorry," I said, stepping back and looking down at my shiny new shoes.
"My name's Marnie," she said. "What's yours?"
That first encounter is symbolic of our entire relationship. Marnie has an openness, a tone that invites warmth and love. She is unassumingly confident, unafraid and unaware of any presumptions you might bring to the conversation. Whereas I am intensely aware. I am afraid of any potential animosity and am always waiting for what I know will come eventually. I am always waiting to be ridiculed. Then, I feared judgment for the pimples across my forehead, my mousy hair, my too-big uniform. Now, my tone of voice, the way it shakes, my clothing, comfortable and rarely flattering, my hair, my trainers, my chewed fingernails.
She is light where I am dark.
I knew it then. Now you'll know it, too.
"Name?" barked the blue-bloused teacher standing behind a desk at the front of the line.
"Marnie Gregory," she said, so firm and self-assured.
"E . . . F . . . G . . . Gregory. Marnie. You're in that classroom there, the one with the 'C' on the door. And you," she continued. "Who are you?"
"Jane," I replied.
The teacher looked up from the sheet of paper in front of her and rolled her eyes.
"Oh," I said. "Sorry. It's Baxter. Jane Baxter."
She consulted her list. "With her. Over there. Door with the 'C.'"
Some might argue that it was a friendship of convenience and that I would have accepted any offer of kindness, of affection, of love. And maybe that's true. In which case, I might counter that we were destined to be together, that our friendship was inked in the stars, because further down our path she'd need me, too.
That sounds like nonsense, I know. It probably is. But sometimes I could swear to it.
Yes, please, said Stanley. I'll have some cream.
Stanley was two years my junior and a lawyer with a number of degrees. He had white blond hair that flopped over his eyes and he grinned constantly, often for no discernible reason. He could speak to women, unlike most of his peers: the result, I guess, of a childhood surrounded by sisters. But he was fundamentally dull.
Unsurprisingly, Charles seemed to be enjoying his company. Which made me dislike Stanley even more.
Marnie passed the jug across the table, pressing her blouse to her stomach. She didn't want the fabric-silk, I think-to skate the top of the fruit bowl.
"Anything else?" she asked, looking at Stanley, and then at me, and then to Charles. He was wearing a blue-and-white-striped shirt and he'd undone the top buttons so that a triangle of dark hairs sprouted from between the fringes of the fabric. Her eyes hovered there for a moment. He shook his head and his tie-undone and loose around his neck-slipped farther to the left.
"Perfect," she said, sitting down and picking up her dessert spoon.
The conversation was-as always-dominated by Charles. Stanley could keep up, interjecting successes of his own wherever possible, but I was bored and I think that Marnie was, too. We were both leaning back into our chairs, sipping the last of our wine and absorbed instead in the imagined conversations playing out within our own minds.
At half past ten, Marnie stood, as she always did at half past ten, and said, "Right."
"Right," I repeated. I stood, too.
She lifted our four bowls from the table and stacked them in the curve of her left arm. A small bead of pink juice from a raspberry still sitting in one of the dishes bled into the white of her shirt. I picked up the now empty fruit bowl-she'd made it herself at a pottery class a few years earlier-and the jug of cream and followed her into the kitchen at the back of the flat.
This flat-their flat-was a testament to their relationship. Charles had paid the hefty deposit, as Charles paid for most things, but at Marnie's insistence. She had known instantly that the flat was meant for them, and it won't surprise you to know that persuasion has always come very naturally to Marnie.
When they moved in, it was little more than a hovel: small, dark, filthy, damp, spread over two floors and desperately unloved. But Marnie has always been a visionary; she sees things where others cannot. She finds hope in the darkest of places-laughably, in me-and trusts herself to deliver something exceptional. I have always envied that self-confidence. It comes, for Marnie, from a place of stubbornness. She has no fear of failure, not because she has never failed, but because failure has only ever been a detour, a small diversion, on a journey that has ultimately led to success.
She worked tirelessly-evenings, weekends, using all of her annual leave-to build something beautiful. With her small hands, she tore wallpaper, sanded doors, painted cupboards, smoothed carpet, laid floorboards, sewed blinds: everything. Until these rooms emitted the same warmth that she does; a quiet confidence, a recognizable yet indefinable sense of home.
Marnie loaded the bowls into the dishwasher, leaving a space between each.
"They clean better this way," she said.
"I know," I replied, because she said the same thing every week, because I made the same noise-a tiny grunt-every week, because it seemed such a waste of water to me.
"Things are going well with Charles," she said.
A prickle climbed my spine, pulling me straight, forcing air into my lungs.
We had only talked about their relationship once before then and it had been a conversation fraught with the long, twisted history of a very old friendship. Ever since, we had spoken only in practical terms: their plans for the weekend; the house they might someday buy far beyond the outer limits of London; his mother riddled with cancer, living in Scotland and dying a very slow, painful, lonely death.
We had not, for example, discussed the fact that they had been together for three years and that several months earlier I had found unexpectedly-and I know I shouldn't have been looking-a diamond engagement ring hidden in the depths of Charles's bedside table. Nor had we discussed the fact that, even without that ring, they were careering toward a permanent commitment that would bind them eternally, in a way that-even after almost twenty years-Marnie and I had never been bound.
We had not discussed the fact that I hated him.
"Yes," I replied, because I was afraid that a full sentence, perhaps even a two-syllable word, would send our friendship hurtling into chaos.
"Don't you think?" she said. "Don't you think that things are looking good for us?"
I nodded and poured the remaining cream from the jug back into its plastic supermarket container.
"You think we're right for each other, don't you?" she asked.
I opened the fridge door and hid behind it, slowly-very slowly-returning the cream to the top shelf.
"Jane?" she asked.
"Yes," I replied. "I do."
That was the first lie I told Marnie.
I wonder now-most days, in fact-if I hadn't told that first lie, would I have told the others? I like to tell myself that the first lie was the least significant of them all. But that, ironically, is a lie. If I had been honest that Friday evening, everything might have been-would have been-different.
I want you to know this now. I thought I was doing the right thing. Old friendships are like knotted rope, worn in some parts and thick and bulbous in others. I feared that this thread of our love was too thin, too frayed, to bear the weight of my truth. Because surely the truth-that I had never hated anyone the way I hated him-would have destroyed our friendship.
If I had been honest-if I had sacrificed our love for theirs-then Charles would almost certainly still be alive.
The Second Lie
This, then, is my truth. I don't mean to sound so dramatic, but I think you deserve to know this story. I guess I think that you need to know this story. It is as much yours as it is mine.
Charles is dead, yes, but that was never my intention. In truth, it never occurred to me that he would ever be anything other than painfully, permanently present. He was one of those overpowering, dominant people: the loudest voice, the grandest gestures, taller and broader and stronger and better than anyone else in any room. You might have said that he was larger than life, which now, of course, feels rather ironic. That said, the simple fact of his being seemed evidence enough that he would always be.
For the first years of my life-and, I suppose, this is true for the first years of most lives-my family formed a framework. The big choices, those that defined my everyday-where I lived, who I spent time with, even what I called myself-were not mine at all. My parents were the puppeteers dictating the shape of my life.
Eventually, I was expected to make my own choices: what to play and with whom and where and when. My family had been everything, the only thing, until they became but the foundations from which I built an identity of my own. It was refreshing to discover that I was, in fact, my own entity and yet it was a little overwhelming, too.
But I was lucky. I found a companion.
Marnie and I soon became inseparable. We looked nothing alike but our teachers regularly called us by the other's name. Because we were never one without the other. We sat side by side in every lesson and walked between classrooms together and traveled home on the same bus at the end of the day.
I hope that one day you experience a similar friendship. You can tie yourself into a teenage love in a way that feels eternal, bonded by new experiences and a newfound sense of freedom. There is something so enchanting about a first best friend at twelve. It is intoxicating to be so needed, to crave someone so acutely, and to have that feeling of being so completely entwined. But these early bonds are unsustainable. And someday you will choose to extricate yourself from this friendship in the pursuit, instead, of lovers. You will extract yourself limb by limb, bone by bone, memory from memory, until you can exist independently, until you are again one person where once you were two.
We were still two, Marnie and me, when-after university-we moved into the flat in Vauxhall. It was modern, in a new build erected less than a decade earlier, surrounded by other similar buildings with other similar flats, all off corridors with blue carpet and behind identical pine doors. It had plastic wood-effect flooring, sleek white kitchen units, and soulless magnolia walls. There were spotlights in every room-the bedrooms, too-and peach tiles on the bathroom floor. It felt cold somehow, wintry, and yet it was always too warm. But it was our haven from the fiercely bright lights and the never-ending noise of a cosmopolitan city in which neither of us, at that time, felt entirely comfortable.
Things were different then. We discussed our diaries over cereal and delegated responsibilities for the day: a new bottle of shampoo, batteries for the remote, something for dinner. We walked side by side to the tube station. We boarded the same carriage. It would have made sense for me to board at the other end, so that my exit was in front of me when I disembarked, but our lives were so intricately woven that traveling separately would have seemed ludicrous.
Reading Group Guide
1. One of the main themes of Seven Lies is the dark complexity of female friendship. In your experience, is very close friendship possible without some degree of difficulty?
2. Jane’s first lie is arguably the catalyst for the events of the novel. Would you have lied in that situation? Should friends always be honest with each other no matter how difficult the truth might be to hear?
3. At the start of chapter 2, Jane states that this is her attempt to tell the truth. To what extent do you feel that she is honest with the reader?
4. In chapter 6, Jane asserts that it’s important that the reader understands her relationship with her mother. What bearing do you think this relationship has on the rest of the novel?
5. Did you find Jane a sympathetic narrator? How, if at all, did your opinion of her change as the story progressed?
6. Jane says that she never looked for other friends because she had everything she needed in Marnie. Do you think it’s more important to have one really intimate friendship or a wider group of people you can rely on?
7. Jane idolizes Marnie. Do you share that view? Do you like the character of Marnie?
8. How do the themes of power and control manifest themselves throughout the novel?
9. In your opinion, which of the seven lies was the most understandable, and which the least?