The Care and Management of Lies
(2014), a historical novel by Jacqueline Winspear, centers on friends and lovers separated and strained by World War I. The book received mixed reviews upon publication, as it’s quite similar to Winspear’s bestselling Maisie Dobbs
series in terms of setting and characterization. Winspear worked in academic publishing and personal coaching before becoming a fiction writer. She’s a New York Times
bestselling author who also contributes to international education journals. The first book in the Maisie Dobbs
series was a New York Times
Although The Care and Management of Lies
follows a handful of characters, the protagonist is Kezia Merchant. Kezia is a quiet and carefree young girl whose main goal is to marry and raise a family. Her best friend, Thea Brissenden, is the opposite. She’s passionate about women’s rights and campaigns for women’s suffrage; she’s not interested in getting married. She doesn’t want a man telling her what to do, and she’s happy with her teaching job in London.
Thea’s brother, Tom, loves Kezia. He runs the family farm and knows Kezia would make the perfect wife and companion for him. Tom, unable to understand Thea’s fascination with women’s rights, wishes she’d behave like Kezia because then she’d find a husband to look after her. He can’t understand that Thea doesn’t want—or need—looking after.
It’s the middle of 1914, and war hasn’t been declared yet. Tom gets engaged to Kezia, who can’t wait to start her life with him. Her friendship with Thea suffers, as Thea can’t understand why she wants such a cloistered life with a man controlling her. Kezia doesn’t let Thea’s comments bother her, but she wishes Thea would mind her own business.
Just before the war breaks out, Kezia and Tom marry; Thea gets Kezia a special wedding present. She buys her a book on wifely duties and household management, which Tom finds appropriate. Kezia, however, knows Thea didn’t do this out of sincerity. She knows Thea is only making fun of married life. This strains their friendship even further.
Kezia’s mother also gives her daughter a gift on her wedding day. She gives Kezia £10, which is a lot of money at the time. Kezia can’t understand the point of the gift, she also thinks it’s too generous. However, her mother explains all women should have their own money hidden away somewhere in case they ever need it. Kezia always assumed that men look after the finances, but she heeds her mother’s advice and stores the money away.
Most chapters in the novel begin with an excerpt from another book. At first, these excerpts are from The Woman’s Book
, the book Thea gives Kezia. However, as the war progresses, these excerpts change from a woman’s manual to a military handbook, illustrating how both women must adopt new roles and redefine themselves if they want to survive. For example, Kezia soon understands the value of money and how to make it on her own on the farm, which ties in with her mother’s advice.
Tom enlists in the British Army and is soon sent off to the front lines. Kezia, left alone on the farm, is expected to run it. Meanwhile, Thea is feeling abandoned and frustrated. She doesn’t feel she’s making a valuable contribution to the suffragist movement, and so, she volunteers to serve as an ambulance driver on the front lines. Although she’s not directly petitioning for women’s rights, Thea proves more about herself and the need for equality than she could ever achieve at home.
Kezia worries constantly about Tom and how he’s getting on. She spends each day fearing she’ll receive a telegram or letter telling her he’s dead. She’s lonely on the farm on her own, and she decides to see if she can get her own letters to him. She knows he loves the farm and will be delighted to know it’s still going strong.
Tom receives these letters and they boost his morale. He reads all Kezia’s descriptions of the food she can’t wait to make for him and is reminded of home and comfort. Tom shares these letters with other soldiers who need a morale boost, and they spend whatever time they can imagining the delicious food she describes in detail.
However, Kezia doesn’t tell Tom that there’s no such food because of rationing and shortages. She doesn’t want him to think she’s struggling, because he has enough to worry him. Tom writes back and doesn’t tell Kezia what’s happening, because he doesn’t want to worry her. They prove to everyone that all efforts, great and small, help win a war.
Ultimately, everyone in this novel shows courage and determination in taking on roles they could never be prepared for. At the end, when Kezia sits down to tea and a telegram arrives, we know she’ll be able to cope with whatever happens next.