After storming its way to win the title of overall best book of 2015 in the Costa Book awards, it's a delight that Frances Hardinge's 'The Lie Tree' is on the shortlist for the CLIP Carnegie Medal, awarded annually to the writer of an outstanding book for children. Because this is a book that deserves to be read and enjoyed widely.
The Lie Tree - Frances Hardinge
One of the best and cleverest things about 'The Lie Tree' is that it has the pace and page-turning absotbtion of a thriller, but Frances Hardinge cleverly uses the murder-mystery platform to weave in truly complex themes - scientific jealousy, how lies can damage small communities, and the role of women in Victorian society. And deals with these big issues in a really gripping way
The main character is a feisty heroine, courageous, intelligent and stubborn. Faith would love to be a scientist and serious, like her father. She rather despises her mother's fripparies and choice of pursuits. But in Victorian times, this is definitely a man's world and Faith may know a lot about science, but she has much to learn about society.
Faith can be more intelligent than most of the people around her and know and learn plenty, but she's encouraged to keep these talents a secret. It's a real challenge to be taken seriously, particularly when she becomes convinced her father has been murdered.
But as she starts to investigate on the sly, she learns what women can be good at - manipulating and working behind the scenes and secretly doing things no-one would expect a woman to do. She sets about covertly trying to find out what her father was really working on and who might have guessed his secret. Because, as a woman, no-one really suspects what she is up to.
Without any of her growing number of enemies knowing, she gets closer to bringing her father's secretive scientific studies to fruition, while also plotting how to reveal what really happened to her father.
This is a page-turner with a serious heart. It's a thought-provoking and imaginative tale that manages to weave a historical scientific adventure with a thread of feminism and fantasy. Not an easy thing to pull off, but Frances Hardinge does it with lashings of style.
There is much discussion about the elusive 'cross-over' novel - one that can be read and enjoyed by both children and adults. But these are more rare than you might think. It is not an easy path to walk to write something that can be enjoyed on so many levels - being both simple and complex at the same time, but 'The Lie Tree', in its complexity and ambition, moves writing for children definitely into an adult sphere, yet bringing also a page-turning quality.
So can Frances pull it off - 'The Lie Tree' being the best novel of the year and being the best novel for children?
We will wait and see, but whatever happens it should bring many new readers to Frances Hardinge's tremendous writing. She is well worth discovering.
Really enjoyable, very clever, and a seriously impressive read.