A twist in a traumatic tale

Little White Lies by Philippa East (Harper Collins), reviewed by April Mangion.

The mere mention of a plot twist is taken as a challenge to work out as early as possible for those like me. I often think being in the field of psychology is a real fun spoiler where plot twists are concerned, with many being discoverable early on.

I was therefore excited to see what Little White Lies had in store considering the author’s credentials. Philippa East is a clinical psychologist and therapist, so my expectations were high. My only disappointment was in not getting the twist before the reveal. East’s debut novel beat me.

The novel begins with fifteen-year-old Abigail returning home after being abducted at the age of eight. The story is told through the voices of Abigail, Anne (mum), Jess (cousin), and Lillian (Abigail’s aunt, Anne’s sister, and mum to Jess). Each narrative reveals an uncomfortable gap in the desire of each of the women. Anne walks on eggshells trying to integrate her daughter back into family life. Avoiding any talk of what Abigail may have gone through, she relies on the authoritative advice of her sister for guidance. Meanwhile, Jess slides effortlessly back into a relationship with Abigail, desperate for their childhood connection to pick up exactly where it left off, which on the surface appears to work. Abigail voices a rather different story. She is confused as to the circumstances surrounding her abduction and how the abductor knew so much about her. She appears aggrieved during the court hearing that the abductor is perceived as the sole person at fault. Abigail keeps a contained display while finding her place back within the family and a way through the trial. Eventually, she can no longer hold back, initiating an opening up of all the little white lies.

The characters in this novel are deep. It is easy to identify with each of them; they are consistent and believable. The twist comes towards the end of the book, at a point of immersion that made me almost forget I was on the lookout for one. After the unfolding of Abigail’s settling back into the fold, and the family’s growing confidence at her reintegration, the family is shaken at the revelation of the abductor’s identity, the return of Abigail’s birth father, and the lies told by more than one of them. With these events comes an acceptance that the family will never be able to return to their pre-abduction state.

Little White Lies subtly reminds us that one person’s trauma can affect a whole family. A traumatic experience will often come to the emotional surface when least expected or wanted. It is not all doom and gloom though. East’s ending provides a hopeful insight – although the truth can hurt, relationships can survive, albeit in a different way. It is a tale about mistakes, honesty and acceptance with a well-hidden plot twist.

- Reviewed by April Mangion Trainee counselling psychologist, Middlesex university and New School of Counselling and Psychotherapy

BPS Members can discuss this article

Already a member? Or Create an account

Not a member? Find out about becoming a member or subscriber