Everything is Lies by Helen Callaghan
Opening sentence: “No one is who they say they are.”
Well, that opening sentence pretty much sums up the plot of this book! When we meet Sofia, a 25-year-old architect, she’s focused on trying to get ahead in her career. Her parents live a quiet life running a garden centre and cafe. Then Sofia goes home to visit them and makes a horrific discovery – her mother dead and father stabbed in an apparent murder/suicide. Her mother had a nervous disposition, but Sofia is sure she would never have killed herself. She suspects foul play and is determined to find out what really happened.
Things then click into place a little for Sofia when she finds out her mother, Nina, had been in the process of writing a book, filling three notebooks with details of her time spent in a cult, centering around her obsession and relationship with the charismatic cult leader, Aaron Kessler. Suddenly Sofia’s world is thrown upside down, along with managing her grief, she can’t begin to imagine her mother as this person who was in a cult and the more she reads in Nina’s notebooks, the more sinister things become…
Last year I read The Girls by Emma Cline, a novel inspired by a real life cult leader Charles Manson, which sparked an interest in me about the psychological nature of cults, what drives people to join them and what people will do once they have been brainwashed. So yes, as a theme, I find cults fascinating, and really liked how Helen Callaghan explores it, with Aaron Kessler even having little Manson nods – like Manson, Kessler is a failed musician and a magnetic character with a hidden agenda.
Also, there were interesting parallels drawn between the brainwashing, conforming nature of a cult and the surprisingly similar pressures of life in an office full of cliques, unspoken rules and people desperate to climb up the career ladder. Both Sofia and Nina suffer at the hands of manipulative, deceptive people and find themselves at a point where they can run away or fight against what’s happening to them. This was a thought provoking thread that added depth to this read.
As well as the characters, the structure was really engaging too, told by both Sofia in the present day and through her mother’s voice in flashbacks to the notebooks. The fast-paced plot had a climax about 3/4 of the way through and then you’re hit with another twist at the end that I didn’t see coming (love it when that happens!) There was a definite bittersweet tang to the final reveal, which was the perfect way to end this clever psychological thriller.
Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC. Published 22nd February 2018.