Also published on this date: Shelf Awareness for Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Wednesday, October 4, 2017: Maximum Shelf: Sometimes I Lie

Flatiron Books: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Flatiron Books: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Flatiron Books: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Flatiron Books: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Sometimes I Lie

by Alice Feeney

"My name is Amber Reynolds. There are three things you should know about me:

1. I'm in a coma.
2. My husband doesn't love me anymore.
3. Sometimes I lie."

This is how Alice Feeney's debut novel, Sometimes I Lie, starts. And fans of psychological thrillers won't be able to stop reading after that.

Amber's story is told nonlinearly, in three different time periods: Now, Then (the week leading up to the present) and Before (diary entries from about 15 years earlier). As the book opens, Amber's awareness is returning. She realizes she's lying in a bed and can feel the light behind her eyes, but can't open them or figure out at first where she is or how she got there. She does know her name, that she's 35 years old and is married to Paul.

She hears two women discussing how they have no idea who she is. She shouts her name at them, but the women act as if she has said nothing. That's when she realizes she's in a coma.

Amber can't communicate with the other characters, but she can narrate her story because she can hear what's going on around her. Not that anything makes sense to her. The doctor asks Paul if Amber is the type of person who'd harm herself--what? Her sister, Claire, asks Paul what happened to his hand--what's wrong with it? When the two start arguing and Paul says Amber warned him not to trust Claire, Amber has no idea what he's talking about.  

Feeney doesn't explain everything right away, of course. She takes readers back a week, to when Amber is working at a radio station and things with Paul aren't going well. A respected author, he is struggling with his latest book and has been moody and distant. Except with Claire.

Amber's sister lives nearby and has a habit of dropping by with no advance notice, but Paul always seems to welcome Claire's company and the two get along just fine without Amber. One day, Amber bumps into a handsome former boyfriend and contemplates accepting his invitation to meet and catch up. After all, would Paul even notice?

The diaries from 1991 and 1992, also in first-person POV, are about a girl named Taylor who is unpopular and bullied in school. Taylor's connection to current events are unclear at first, and when the answers are finally revealed, they'll likely surprise readers.

The Now and Then chapters are most engrossing due to their sense of urgency. In the now, Amber might be aware of her surroundings, but if she hears or senses something malicious, there is nothing she can do about it. Her vulnerability and helplessness are terrifying. As if that's not enough, Amber keeps seeing in her head "a little girl wearing a pink, fluffy dressing gown in the middle of the road. She's singing. Twinkle twinkle little star." More like creepy, creepy, little girl.

While reading about Then, one can't help being filled with dread, knowing Amber is speeding toward an unknown catastrophe. Bad luck befalls her, but readers will think, You still haven't hit the Big One yet.

As immobile as Amber is for much of the story, Feeney manages to keep the pace at a fast clip. Her crisp prose is packed with acute observations. During an uncomfortable situation at work, Amber puts on a fake smile, "the label still attached so I can return it when I'm done." While comatose, Amber thinks, "I’ve been returned to my factory settings as a human being, rather than a human doing." Recalling her wedding day, she notes it was a small ceremony because she's never had many friends. "Everyone you meet is inevitably flawed.... I don't avoid broken people because I think I'm better than them. I just don't like looking at my own reflection."

That unflinching self-awareness is what makes Amber an engaging protagonist. She knows she's flawed but does the best she can with what she has. She doesn't let herself off the hook when she makes mistakes, but refuses to wallow in self-pity, too. Paul will keep readers guessing about whether he's a good guy or a rotten egg. Claire, too, is somewhat of a cipher. She visits Amber in the hospital every day and is extremely supportive even when her sister isn't in a coma, so why did Amber warn Paul not to trust her?

Readers who find alternating timelines challenging need not worry--Feeney won't let you lose the threads before she ties them together. Sometimes I Lie is meticulously plotted, deliciously twisty and gripping to the very end. --Elyse Dinh-McCrillis

Flatiron Books, $26.99, hardcover, 272p., 9781250144843, March 13, 2018

Flatiron Books: Sometimes I Lie by Alice Feeney

Alice Feeney: Embracing the Dark and Twisty

photo: Alice Feeney

Alice Feeney is a journalist and writer who worked at the BBC as a reporter, editor and producer. After living in London and in Sydney, Australia, she now resides in the Surrey countryside. Sometimes I Lie is her debut novel.

Talk us through your transition from BBC reporter to published novelist.

As a child, I used to sit in the back of my parents' shop scribbling mini books onto folded pieces of paper. I worked for the BBC for 16 years and I loved my job, but my secret dream was always to be an author. It was such a secret that most people I worked with had no idea I was busy writing Sometimes I Lie on the train to work and during my lunch breaks. The press release about my book deal was a big surprise for a lot of people! I work in my garden shed now with my cowriter, a giant black Labrador who is scared of feathers.

When did you decide to start writing novels?

I started my first novel the year I turned 30 and it feels like I've been scribbling in my spare time ever since. I've tried and failed a few times. I have my fair share of rejection letters, but each time I just picked myself up and tried again. It's what you have to do. I think you have to follow your dreams, no matter how scared you are of failing. Your dreams always know the way.

Did you attend the Faber Academy writing course before or after this decision? 

I already had the idea for Sometimes I Lie and wanted to write the best book I could and give myself--and the novel--the best possible chance. In many ways, it felt like my last chance, so I worked even harder than before and it meant everything to me. I applied for a place on the course and got myself a 0% credit card to pay for it. I completed Sometimes I Lie just before I graduated and was approached by 15 literary agents, so all that hard work was worth it!

What was it like hearing it was sold at auction?

It was amazing and I'll never forget that moment! I was at work when I got the call, sitting next to one of the BBC's main news anchors (Huw Edwards), and I had to act like everything was normal when my whole life had just changed! I'm very lucky to have the best agent in the known universe (Jonny Geller), and I was completely overwhelmed and very flattered by the response to my book.

At what point did you quit your BBC job?

I was 21 when I started working in the newsroom and my colleagues were like a surrogate family, albeit a slightly dysfunctional one, so quitting wasn't an easy decision. I talked about leaving with my agent after the U.K. deal, and a few days later, when the book had gone to auction in the U.S. and Germany, I decided to take the leap.

What made you want to write crime fiction?

I think the best piece of advice I've ever been given as a writer is to write the book you want to read. I read a lot of books, all genres, but my favorites tend to be rather dark and twisty. I don't think psychological thrillers are new; I'd argue that Agatha Christie wrote one or two, and my favorite author is Gillian Flynn. As a child, I was obsessed with Stephen King novels, and that might also have influenced the way I write now.  

What was your biggest surprise after publication? When did you feel you'd made it?

I don't really feel like I've made it yet. I’m not sure I'll ever feel that way. For me, it is just about trying to write the best books that I can for those kind enough to read them. Writers are nothing without readers and I'm so grateful to each and every one.

I live in a very old Victorian house full of books and it is in constant need of repair, but I love every brick and it's the only house that has ever felt like home. I always hated the kitchen tiles, but never seemed to be able to afford to do anything about them. Other things, like a new roof when the rain started coming in, were more important. So, my big treat to myself when I got a publishing deal was new kitchen tiles! I love cooking, and every time I see my new tiles, I remember that my stories paid for them and it makes me very happy.

Legendary Entertainment bought the TV rights to Sometimes I Lie. Without spoiling anything, what are some elements you will insist on remaining unchanged in the screen adaptation?

Legendary has made some of my favorite films, including Inception, Interstellar and The Dark Knight. I was beyond thrilled when I found out they wanted to buy the rights to Sometimes I Lie. I'm a consultant on the TV series, and it is lovely to be involved, but I trust the Legendary team to do what they do best. I can't say too much about it at the moment, but I'm really excited about everything they have planned and I can't wait to see Amber brought to life onscreen.

Is your next book, Sometimes I Kill, connected in any way to Lie or is it a standalone?

Sometimes I Kill is a brand-new story. I've just finished reading the latest draft and I'm super excited about it. It's dark and twisty, there are parts that genuinely surprised, shocked and scared me and I hope people will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Amber, the main character in Sometimes I Lie, starts the book with three statements about herself. Using that same template, what would your confessions be?

My name is Alice Feeney. There are three things you should know about me:

  1. I write dark and twisty novels.
  2. I also love to cook.
  3. Sometimes I bake.

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