The Care and Management of Lies: A Novel of the Great War
Jacqueline Winspear’s first stand-alone novel, a departure from her Maisie Dobbs series of historical mysteries, illuminates the ways in which the Great War affected the men and women who were called to duty, as well as those who stayed home.
The tale begins in July 1914. A wedge is driven between best friends Kezia Marchant and Thea Brissenden. Kezia will soon marry Tom, Thea's brother, leaving her teaching career to become a farmer's wife. Thea only ever wanted to leave her family's farm, and so is incredulous and disparaging toward her friend's chosen life path. However, an onlooker wouldn't be able to detect this disapproval as the friends chat during Kezia's short stay with Thea. Kezia's mind is joyfully counting off the four remaining days until her long-anticipated wedding, but she also feels increasing dismay at the strong suffragette leanings Thea expresses.
"Along with an impossible-to-put-down page-turner of a tale, thought-provoking and still timely questions about the nature of war linger on after Winspear’s latest literary success is closed for the final time."
Thea presents Kezia with a wedding gift, a volume called The Woman’s Book, detailing "Everything a Woman Ought to Know" about being a housewife. Kezia accepts the present, thanking her, but the dig is not at all lost on her. Thea obviously expects all intellectual processes to stop when Kezia marries Tom, to be supplanted by farmwife drudgery.
In the first few weeks of their marriage, Kezia never fails to amuse Tom with her attempts at cooking, yet he finds it touching that she tries to make her meals appeal through the use of her good silver and best linens, even when serving the farmhands. Kezia is good-natured about his teasing and doesn't hesitate to experiment with recipes. She generally loves her new life but decides to take a few hours for herself, packing a lunch and a book to settle beneath a massive oak by a nearby lake. Lulled by the peacefulness, she falls asleep only to awaken to meet Edmund Hawkes, a neighbor who eventually will have a huge impact on Tom's life.
Kezia worries that, in the busyness of her life as a farmer's wife, she is losing some of the very essence of herself. She compares her life to her previous one as a teacher and also to Thea's life. She gave up a job she loved. She loves her husband, but is there enough of her personality left to intrigue him? Kezia decides to visit Thea in London, where she is distracted by Thea's fervent support of pacifists rallying against Britain's war with Germany. Kezia knows how dangerous Thea's outspoken politics are. Pacifists are imprisoned, as both women know. Although Kezia holds hope that the war fervor will amount to nothing, when she bumps into Edmund Hawkes on the train going home, he informs her that it is just beginning and their lives will change forever.
Before long, Hawkes and Tom have enlisted. Thea must join the battlefield, too. At home, Kezia runs the farm and sends her husband letters filled with luscious descriptions of the food she wishes she could cook for him. Those sumptuous images impact Tom's future in many ways, some obvious and others less so.
THE CARE AND MANAGEMENT OF LIES pulls readers immediately into Kezia's life. Thanks to a pitch-perfect setting and many-layered characters, we are there as she struggles to find her way in the world, falling in love and striving to be the wife she feels her husband deserves, and then struggling to maintain the farm while enduring the yearning their separation brings. Along with an impossible-to-put-down page-turner of a tale, thought-provoking and still timely questions about the nature of war linger on after Winspear’s latest literary success is closed for the final time.
Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon on July 2, 2014