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48 pages 1 hour read

Alice Feeney

Sometimes I Lie

Fiction | Novel | Adult | Published in 2017

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Summary and Study Guide

Overview

Sometimes I Lie is a 2017 murder thriller by veteran BBC journalist-turned-novelist Alice Feeney that challenges the reader to piece together an elaborate puzzle, complicated by the unfolding realization that the narrator may be a compulsive liar. The novel, with its decidedly ironic use of stock elements of murder mysteries (a torrid affair, an unexpected pregnancy, a demented stalker turned rapist, dark family secrets, a bad case of amnesia, a tragic house fire, incriminating diaries, a psychotic sibling, a dictatorial boss), was quickly optioned by the Fox production company headed by Ellen DeGeneres and developed into a limited-run Netflix series with Sarah Michelle Gellar as Amber, although production was impacted by the COVID-19 shutdowns.

This guide follows the 2018 First Edition Flatiron Paperback edition and summarizes scenes of rape, sexual abuse, and drug use. The novel’s chapters move between events that happened to Amber Reynolds the week leading up to a car accident in late December 2016; the weeks after the accident, going to spring 2017; and, through diary entries, events that happened to another character, Claire, when she was 10. Each chapter is headed by the year, date, day, and time. This guide will summarize the chapters by page ranges and follow each storyline separately.

Plot Summary

It is Boxing Day, the day after Christmas, a national holiday in England. Amber Reynolds, a 30-something assistant host for a highly rated morning show on BBC radio, is in a coma in a hospital. Aware but unable to communicate, Amber struggles to gather details about the car accident that nearly killed her from fragments of bedside conversations between nurses and her husband, Paul, a successful novelist, and her sister, Claire. She determines the police suspect Paul of having something to do with the accident. The two have grown estranged since the publication of Paul’s first book, and Amber admits she suspects he might be involved romantically with her sister. She had hoped when she found out she was pregnant a few days before Christmas that they might begin to repair their marriage.

Amber, helpless in bed, thinks back to what she remembers about the days leading up to the Christmas afternoon accident. Her association with the morning radio show is growing tenuous—she is in nearly constant friction with the show’s principal host, Madeline Frost, and she is told confidentially to make nice or face termination. Determined to keep her job, Amber, with Jo, her only friend at the studio, hatches a plan to get Madeline fired. Amber arranges for Madeline to share her true feelings about one of the station’s established charity funds by deliberately leaving the woman’s mic on during a live radio show. The station quickly moves to terminate the woman.

In addition to the stress at work, Amber reconnects with an ex-boyfriend, Edward Clarke, whom she meets by chance. Unknown to her, he is still seething over Amber’s accusations of unwanted advances while they were dating years earlier when Edward was a promising med student, accusations that cost Edward any chance at a medical career. Edward now works as a low-level orderly at a hospital near Amber and Paul’s home and blames Amber for everything, although Amber finds out only now that her sister actually filed the complaint.

As Amber struggles to work through the days leading up to the accident, the reader is given diary entries from 1991, nearly 20 years earlier. The diary, apparently, was kept by Claire, who is not actually her sister but a friend Amber first met when she was 10. At the time, Amber went by her middle name, Taylor. Claire moved from school to school for reasons she does not share (later she reveals her propensity for violence and for getting into confrontations with other kids) and never found her way to real friendships, preferring the company of imaginary friends. Claire’s diary entries suggest she often shielded Amber from the mean girls at school. Claire, possibly accidentally, causes her mother, then pregnant, to fall down stairs and have a pregnancy loss. Soon after, Claire is adopted by Amber’s parents after Claire’s parents die in a Christmas Day housefire, which Claire apparently set as a way to bond with Amber. Amber’s parents treat Claire with more concern than they did Amber.

In the narrative present, Amber comes to understand from bedside conversations that she had a pregnancy loss as a result of the accident. Parts of the accident come to her in flashes. She remembers having dinner with Edward on impulse the afternoon of the station’s Christmas party and ending up in his apartment after they apparently had sex (she suspects he drugged her). In one memory, when Amber comes home on Christmas Eve afternoon, she is stunned to find Edward waiting for her. The confrontation is ugly, with Edward hitting her angrily before Paul comes home and inadvertently saves her. In the days leading up to Christmas, Amber becomes increasingly concerned that Paul may read Claire’s diaries, which have been stored in their attic for years.

At night in the ICU when Amber is alone, Edward torments her, taunts her in her helplessness, and then one night actually rapes her. The crime is caught on a hidden camera Paul placed in the hopes of seeing his wife make any kind of movement. As the new year begins, Amber struggles to make some sign to her husband that she is aware to avoid having her life-support system disconnected. She remembers how her sister was driving her to the hospital on Christmas afternoon because she had started bleeding and was afraid she might be having a miscarriage. After the accident, however, Claire callously left her there, assuming she was dead. Amber manages to lift a finger and whisper to Paul. She is awake.

Weeks later, now recovering from the accident and on holiday with Paul, Amber reveals that she poisoned Claire and Claire's husband on Valentine’s Day and that now she and Paul are arranging to adopt Claire’s twins. She reveals she framed her ex-boss from the radio station for the murders. Edward has disappeared, although police suspect foul play, and Amber suspects Claire may have killed him. Amber has burned Claire’s diaries, and now Amber is free to return to her life with Paul. Is she a devious and manipulative psychopath responsible for five deaths or is she an innocent victim of a “nutjob” younger sister who found the strength to free herself of her faux-sister’s toxic love? It is impossible to ascertain because, as she readily and frequently admits, sometimes she lies.

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