The Care and Management of Lies
At the outbreak of WW1, the lifelong friendship between two women is under strain. Kezia has given up teaching to marry Thea’s farmer brother, Tom. As Thea doubts her friend’s capability with domesticity, she presents her with a book on cooking and household management. Meanwhile, Thea confronts deeper moral issues as she progresses from suffragette to anti-war campaigner and finally ambulance driver. Tom signs up, leaving the farm in Kezia’s care. His commanding officer is Edmund, a disenchanted landowner hiding his secret obsession with Kezia.
Jacqueline Winspear is rightly acclaimed for her finely-plotted Maisie Dobbs psychological detective series. Her inherent understanding of how peopled lived and behaved during this era shines through, although this novel is sluggish in the beginning with too much exposition. It starts to gain its vitality when the narrative is broken up with dialogue, the banter between the men in the trenches being a fine example, and Edmund’s ethical conundrum in dealing with Tom when his life is at stake is exceptionally well written.
Kezia nobly carries the burden of the farm with unflagging optimism, but she is not as interesting a character as the imperfect, yet spirited, Thea. There is too much focus on Kezia’s experiments with gourmet recipes, and the inclusion of these in her letters sent to a man on a bully-beef diet may be intended as an unusual expression of love, but they become irksome and call for the censor’s pen in more ways than one. The ending is poignant and sombre but accurately reflects the finalities of war.
With the approaching centenary of WW1, many novels with a similar theme to this will appear, of which just a few may be outstanding. With more immediacy and less of the herbs and spices this could have been one of them.