Book review: Lovers and Liars by Nina Bell

Don’t judge a book by its cover...

Wednesday, 27th October 2010, 7:00 am

At first glance, Lovers and Liars would appear to be just another chick-lit novel featuring the same old merry-go-round of cheating husbands, born-again wives and cheesy happy-ever-after endings.

In fact, this clever and compelling story offers so much more than its jacket and title suggests. Gritty and psychologically astute, it treads a carefully crafted fine line between fact and fiction.

Nina Bell’s two previous books, The Inheritance and Sisters-in-Law, were proof that here is an author capable of tuning in to complex family relationships and her powerful new exploration of domestic abuse builds on a growing reputation.

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Lovers and Liars is a sensitively handled and well-researched character-driven study of a family in denial and under siege from one man’s barrage of bullying, threats and put-downs.

Sophie and Jess Raven have grown up in middle-class comfort but it hasn’t been the happy, cushioned life that outsiders might have expected.

Their father, self-made businessman Bill Raven, is foul-mouthed, manipulative and full of anger. Their downtrodden mother Paige has taught them to make excuses for his behaviour...he works hard, he worries, no-one’s perfect.

Sophie escaped years ago to marry kind, dependable insurance broker Harry and they have three beautiful daughters, but still total happiness and security elude her.

Harry is desperate to leave his job and go it alone, maybe putting their home and lifestyle at risk. He claims he hasn’t asked her wealthy father for a loan but someone is lying.

Jess, slighted by her father’s constant admonishments that she wasn’t born a boy, has always been troubled and rebellious...but now she’s met handsome and charming journalist Jake Wild.

He’s everything she ever wanted in a man...or is he? Jake likes to be in control, he doesn’t like the way Jess dresses, her hairstyle and her earrings and he is having an extraordinary effect on big sister Sophie.

When the girls make a discovery that threatens their parents’ marriage, hard decisions must be made not just about their mother’s future, but their own as well...

Bell uses family life as a backdrop on which to paint her assortment of characters – real people with lives we can all recognise and problems we may all encounter somewhere along the way.

She examines how husbands become abusive, why wives remain in unhappy marriages, the almost imperceptible but increasing reliance on alcohol and the slow disintegration of relationships.

However, Lovers and Liars is also an entertaining read full of subtle changes of tack and warm humour.

Don’t miss it...

(Sphere, paperback, £7.99)