Three Great Lies

Written by Vanessa MacLellan
Review by Judith Starkston

Three Great Lies starts in modern Egypt, with a tourist named Jeannette enticed to a newly uncovered tomb. Once there, she tumbles through a hole and finds herself, Alice-like, in a semi-fantastic ancient Egypt. Jeannette’s modern life held little meaning for her. Her boyfriend dumped her for her best friend, her job is boring, and she is disillusioned with religion. But life in Egypt gradually jars Jeannette’s negative sensibilities, and she develops deep friendships with a determined, lost mummy and a young cat-headed girl who has been sent by the goddess Bast to assist both the mummy and Jeannette, although no one knows what form that help is meant to take.

MacLellan juggles these serious themes of friendship and what gives life meaning with a flip voice and a humorous style. Frequently the humor is delivered via simile. For example, early on the effect of the heat on Jeannette is described: “The mid-day sun had baked her brain within the black helmet, and sweat lacquered the sides of her face… She’d been cured, like a Christmas ham.” Often a contemporary reference is used in these similes, and the humor is meant to arise from the absurdity of such a comparison within this ancient world.

The growth and changes of the three central characters are believable and endearing. The plot, however, meanders slowly. Judicious clipping of plot arc and repetitious language would have greatly improved this imaginative novel. For example, pruning would benefit this passage describing Jeannette’s emotions: “Jeannette forced her features into lax neutrality. Her jaw tightened and she forced herself to relax.” MacLellan’s creative concept and good characters would have been enhanced by thorough editing.