A True Story Based on Lies by Jennifer Clement

DATE FINISHED: July 19th, 2012 

RATED: **** (4.5)

SYNOPSIS:  Leonora is raised on Mexican folklore, its rhythm in her blood. After studying at a convent she is taken on as maid and nanny to a well-off couple, but when she falls pregnant by her employer, Mr. O’ Connor, she must give up her child to the couple for the sake of society and appearance. Aura Olivia calls Mrs O’ Connor mother, but Leonora’s blood courses through the household’s veins. In a house full of women, sometimes it is hard to know exactly where the power lies…

THOUGHTS:  Although set only decades ago, Clement’s prose has a timeless, storybook feel. Can such imbalances of social hierarchy really have been so commonplace and ingrained in such recent history?Better to distance ourselves, and Clement’s language does this perfectly. She is a poet and this is evident in the rhythmic cadence of her words, effortlessly evoking an atmosphere heavy with unspoken charms, effortlessly evoking the pains and growing madness of impossible love between husband and wife, mother and daughter, woman and friend.

“He stepped on my shadow.  I could not walk.  And then I could not breathe.  I did not know what had happened until it happened.  It was like trying to stop the rain.”

Although barely longer than a novella, there is a beautiful, devastating simplicity to this story, its dark undertones belying the true complexity of the lies that are told. There is more to this story than a wash of words.  The blend of suffused magic and darker themes combine in a subtle and disquieting read.

FOLLOWING ON:  The magic of Mexican folklore reaches new heights in the love story of Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel.  Clement revisits Mexico in her somewhat sinister and unsettling later novel, The Poison that Fascinates.  A similar relationship between master and servant/slave is given a more historic and suffocating context in Property by Valerie Martin..

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3 responses to “A True Story Based on Lies by Jennifer Clement

  1. Jennifer Clement July 20, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Thank you for these soulful words about my book.

    • tanglecrafts July 20, 2012 at 6:08 am

      Wow, thank you so much for taking the time to comment! I love the book. I first read it 8 years ago, but noticed last week that after moving house 5 times I no longer seemed to have a copy, so promptly re-acquired it. My husband spotted it immediately, picked it up, read it and thoroughly enjoyed it. I re-read it yesterday so that it was fresher in my mind for us to talk about, and am really glad I took the time to re-read it. 🙂 I put The Poison that Fascinates into his hands yesterday, so I will likely be re-reading that one soon, also…!

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