The struggles of growing up, between mothers and teenage daughters, is excellently portrayed in Marian Dillon’s second adult novel The Lies Between Us. As with Looking for Alex, it takes the format of two parallel stories using flashbacks to let the past (from 1963, with mother Kathleen) catch up with the near present (1987, following daughter Eva). This method is a winning formula for Dillon, who craftily executes a story that reveals how a mother’s choices as a teenager affect her daughter’s future. Touching on the effects of alcoholism and women’s expectations from the 60s to 80s, The Lies Between us is as much about intricate family life as it is about feminism and changing gender roles.
Starting with Eva’s experience as a teenager, readers learn about her party-loving mum who isn’t all too interested in her daughter’s life, while her dad – a car salesman- empathically tries to keep up appearances as a ‘normal’ middle-class family. But Eva is more perceptive than her parents realise. Having failed her A-levels partly due to her erratic home life, Eva’s working in a pub to earn money until she can re-sit her exams. When a freak accident –the Great Storm that crossed the UK in 1987– brings Eva and newcomer Ed closer together, she is forced to make choices for a more independent lifestyle. This historical framing of the story speaks to the imagination, especially to a UK audience: Where were you when this hurricane hit the shores? It’s a nice touch.
Although Eva’s the main protagonist, it’s Kathleen’s story that I find the most intriguing. Revealing a window into the past, it’s a reflection on society in the early 60s, where limited prospects for girls meant they were lucky if they could ‘marry up’ to improve their station in life. Starting her story with “What if…”, Kathleen is the product of her generation; the choices she made were not always her own, with hopes and dreams turning into regret and bitterness. Kathleen’s flashbacks provide relevance and sympathy, all the while making Eva’s attitude towards her failing parents equally understandable. Protecting your daughter from making the same mistakes while keeping your own regrets and disappointments hidden is an almost an impossible task. It’s something that Eva slowly comes to appreciate: mothers were young once, too.
The book has its slower moments that some readers might find frustrating. However, I especially enjoyed the moments where Dillon embraces the facets of everyday life – walking home after work, sitting in the park on a lazy afternoon. Life isn’t always exciting and this is a novel about characters and building relationships, nurturing fragile ones and accepting the past. Dillon touches on topics such as loss and grief in a delicate way, giving advice on dealing with negative emotions and moving forward. “I can’t bring myself to indulge those sad feelings when it doesn’t change anything”, Ed admits, while explaining the estrangement from his ex-wife. All the same, Ed needs Eva, and she needs him, both to process delicate painful experiences that have shaped their lives. It’s the little things in life that matter as well as the intention: where mothers learn from daughters and partners from each other.