It is often said that the first casualty of war is truth (one of the casualties appears to be where the quote came from, see Peter Household's entertaining blog post). The premise of the quote is that lies are an important part of war, whether they are used to morally bolster one side (they may commit atrocities, we would never do anything like that), make people believe that the war is going better for their side than perhaps it actually is, enhance a negative view of the enemy, strategic lies of the sort that were used by the allies before D-Day cleverly making the Nazis believe that the D-Day landings were going to take place in a different place, or a sort of historical lie - of the sort that became familiar at the Nuremberg trials, where history is re-written to expunge some of the guilt.

Some of the types of lies that I've mentioned above seem, at least to me, more pardonable than others, even essential. There's a difference between the strategic lies, which can be admired for their cleverness, skill and usefulness; and the unpardonable lies around atrocities, which damage both the victim, their memory, and ultimately the perpetrator.

Most of these lies tend to be perpetrated at a high level. They are often lies that are owned by the commanders and disseminated down. But, as Jacqueline Winspear's novel The care and management of lies shows, lying is an integral part of war; and it touches everyone right down to the humblest soldier and his family on the home front.

Set in the First World War Care and Management centres around a young married couple, the Kentish farmer Tom Brissenden, and his new bride Keziah. Keziah and Tom met thanks to his sister Thea, who was Keziah's best friend at a progressive girls' school. Thea is a suffragette and a pacifist, but fearing that she will be jailed she joins the Ambulance Corps, and is sent to the Western Front. Tom also joins up, his sense of duty making him feel unable to stay on the farm, when most of the farmworkers that he has known since boyhood have gone to France. Keziah is thrown in at the deep end, and must change quickly from a blue stocking to a farm manager.

While all three struggle with the new lives that they have unexpectedly started living, Keziah writes to Tom, letters full of love, in which she endeavours to be the perfect wife. In reality, she is brilliant at managing the farm, but not so good at what is expected of a woman of her time - making the house beautiful, cooking, sewing, even getting pregnant; but the letters say little of the daily life of the farm (not least because Keziah doesn't want to upset Tom by telling of the changes that the war has brought to Marshal's Farm). They are full however of delicious recipes, they ooze food and warmth and love, and become an important part of Tom's, and his friends', life. Meanwhile in Tom's letters home, there is little of the truth of war, the misery, the discomfort, the bullying. One does wonder how the marriage would have worked post-war, when all the lies come tumbling down; would the love behind the lies count for more than them?

It's a very sweet book. I really felt for the three main characters especially Tom and Keziah. And I loved her letters, which felt very real and intimate. I was left feeling a bit short-changed by the ending, which seemed very abrupt, although the author may have had good reason for balancing the book like this. An engaging vision of a rapidly changing world - especially for women.

It certainly made me think about the importance of lies - not the big ones that are told out of guilt, or for manipulation; but the little untruths that we all tell every day - the lies that are built out of love or kindness. Would the world be better if we were more like Thea - brutally honest? Or more like Keziah - the cook who can't cook. It's certainly something to think about, and The care and management of lies leaves us to think about it right up to the end.


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