The Lie

I am so full of meh about this book that I hardly know what to say. It’s a doppelgänger book, and author Petra Hammesfahr has been hailed as the German Patricia Highsmith, so what could go wrong? To be honest, I’m not sure that anything went particularly wrong, but it doesn’t go particularly right either, so I’m left feeling … meh.

In the prologue, a 14-year-old finds a body in a dumpster, a woman whose face has been disfigured and whose hands have been burned. We’re told that the police thought they had solved the crime but that they were wrong.

The first chapter begins four months earlier, when Susanne Lasko has a chance encounter with a more fashionable and elegant version of herself. This woman, Nadia Trenkler, soon enlists Susanne to help her get some time away with her lover. All Susanne will have to do is to pretend to be Nadia so that Nadia’s husband doesn’t suspect. Susanne, who’s been out of work for a while and is having no luck finding a new job, agrees. Given the prologue, you can imagine what the results might be.

I can’t quite put my finger on what about this book didn’t work for me. The plotting is competent, although it dragged at times and got more complex than it needed to be. I wouldn’t say the story was filled with surprises, but I couldn’t consistently predict precisely where it was going, so that’s okay … but only okay. Susanne herself was not an especially interesting protagonist. I sympathized with her situation, but as a person, she was bland. Some of the blandness was probably intentional, to show that this is an ordinary person getting mixed up in a big crazy mess, and she was one of the only characters I cared about at all, but I felt like I was caring for an idea of a person, the way you’d care about any theoretical person who’s down on her luck. There was nothing specific about her to interest me. I did finish the book and never gave much thought to giving up because I was curious as to where the twisty plot was headed, so it did keep me that interested.

For me, the fascination of doppelgängers is in the whole idea of identity and what makes us who we are, and I would have liked more of a focus on that than on the twists and turns of who’s betraying whom and how. Susanne spends a lot of time living another woman’s life, and the psychological implications of that are brushed over. Instead, it’s all about whether and how she’ll slip up. I was hoping for something meatier, but this was mostly a plotty thriller. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what I’d expect from an author hailed as the German Patricia Highsmith.

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7 Responses to The Lie

  1. I haven’t read this one, but I enjoyed Hammesfahr’s other book, The Sinner. I’m afraid I haven’t read any Highsmith, so can’t compare the two, but it sounds as though The Sinner has a lot more depth than this one. I think I’m going to have to read some Highsmith now. :-)

    • Teresa says:

      From what I can tell, The Sinner has gotten more praise the The Lie, so maybe it’s a better book overall. I was hoping for more depth in this one, so maybe I’ll try The Sinner at some point.

      I haven’t read many of Highsmith’s books, but I’ve liked what I read. The Talented Mr. Ripley is her most famous, and it is very good. I think you’d like it.

  2. Deb says:

    Have you read THE LIKENESS by Tana French? A doppelganger murder-mystery that I enjoyed very much. If you haven’t read it, it might be worth a look.

    • Teresa says:

      I haven’t read any of Tana French’s books, but she’s on my list.

      • Deb says:

        The three that she’s published so far (IN THE WOODS, THE LIKENESS, and FAITHFUL PLACE) form a very loose trilogy in that some characters recur from book-to-book. However, unlike say Kate Atkinson’s Jackson Brodie books, I don’t think you need to read French’s in order to get the most out of them.

  3. I think sometimes book suffer from comparisons… you’re looking so much for one thing that doesn’t materialize (because honestly, how could it?) then the book just falls apart. I agree with you about what makes doppelgängers interesting, the identity questions that come up. The rest is just sort of meh.

    • Teresa says:

      Exactly. And it feels unfair to criticize a book for not having the specific thing we’re looking for, but we can’t always help our expectations. In the case of this book, if the plot had been a little tighter and the book shorter, I might have been less disappointed at the lack of depth.

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