The White Lie

The White Lie
Genre : Fiction
Published : 1 Nov 2013 - Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
"Gillies's atmospheric prose perfectly complements this engrossing drama set against a creepy loch" — Publishers Weekly

“One hot summer day, Michael Salter, nineteen-year-old scion of a posh Highland family, disappears. When his childlike aunt claims she drowned him during a fight, the family close ranks. No police. No memorial service. No titbits for village gossips. A decade of deceit begins.” — Financial Times

The Salter family orbits around Peattie House, their crumbling Scottish estate filled with threadbare furniture, patrician memories, and all the secrets that go with them. While they are gathered for their grandmother's seventieth birthday, someone breaks the silence. The web begins to unravel. But what is the white lie? How many others are built upon it? How many lives have been changed because of it? Only one person knows the whole truth. From beyond the grave, Michael loops back into the past until we see, beyond perception and memory, how deeply our decisions resound, and just what is the place, and price, of grandeur.

Andrea Gillies brings us inside a big house and a great family, with an elegantly written novel of eccentric characters, twists and turns and redirects, and shocking revelations.


A really terrific read ... Elegant, well written, genuinely gripping.

Joanne Harris

A white lie is, by convention, a harmless thing... Gillies explores in this novel how such lies may be very far from innocent in intention or in effect... the truth beginning to work its way to the surface, like a swollen and decomposing corpse... She excels in her portrait of a landscape that consumes the merely human – eats it for lunch, as it were – and has slowly, over many generations, created a family in its own image.

Helen Dunmore, The Times

A subtle and sustained exercise in slowly revealing a dense story. Gillies writes magnificently on everything she touches, be it family secrets, Highland light, or the nature of memory.

Sunday Times

The White Lie is a story of decline, of a crumbling hierarchy taking desperate measures to save face (and the bloodline and the silver) before the hordes sweep them away. Yet, more than that, it is an account of the unreliability of personal history. Is a family story true because it is repeated? Does it matter in the end if the 'truth' is revealed, if the lie has been lived? This novel develops ideas of the fragility and fluidity of identity. We all self-mythologise. The strength of this immersive story is that it does not require neat revelations. THE WHITE LIE is, even with its detours, a page-turner. It is also, finally, very moving...

Francine Stock, Guardian

There’s an echo of Virginia Woolf, especially TO THE LIGHTHOUSE, that lifts Gillies’ work above the average family drama. The fact that she also keeps a tight hold of the gossipy strands of her story is a great credit to her powers, too, as well as her ability to keep her readers guessing the truth to the end. This is an unusual, unsettling, often lovely story that plumbs the depths of what family means. It is a fine debut novel.

Lesley McDowell, Scotsman

A tense, taut tale of rumours and revelations, where festering guilt slowly unravels family secrets. Andrea Gillies' beautifully-crafted debut combines page-turning aplomb with psychological insight. Ursula Salter claims to have killed her beautiful, angry young cousin Michael on the loch of her family's Highland estate. The family close ranks, and convince the locals that he's run away. Over the years, recriminations, shifting family loyalties and new relationships provoke seemingly unanswerable speculations: is Michael dead, who was his father, what was his relationship with Ursula? Gillies is a tantalising storyteller, dropping in clues, vertiginous surprises and unexpected revelations.

Marie Claire

Set in the Scottish highlands, 13 years since young Michael Salter's death was covered up by his aristocratic family. As past truths emerge, a web of deception unravels. An intricate, well-observed novel of secrets and guilt.

Woman & Home

There are many good things in Gillies's novel. Her feeling for atmosphere is sharp, and the care she takes with drawing the Salters' land and mansion pays off, creating an almost tangible picture of a raddled, embattled domain, a vivid stage against which events unfold.

Rosemary Goring, Herald

Gillies writes with a patrician elegance her characters might appreciate, bringing the closed world of the big house to life with cinematic clarity, the guilt-ridden residents as distressed as the threadbare furniture. The book has a pleasantly teasing quality, stealthily circling its central mysteries, challenging the reader to keep up while it flits between eras. A gripping exploration of the stories families tell about themselves, myths sometimes more potent than the truth.

Adrian Turpin, Financial Times

Absolutely searing … we have a major new talent in our midst.

Daily Express

An excellent debut novel … Gillies handles her cast and clashing versions of events with a precision that makes reading this imaginative novel a fascinating process of discovery.


In her complex and multilayered debut novel, Gillies explores the elusive, enigmatic interplay between memory, myth and reality... The atmosphere and sense of place are magnificently evoked and you find yourself totally immersed... THE WHITE LIE is a well-written, unusual, clever and absorbing read which draws you into a world where nothing is as it seems.

Avis Perks, Independent Online, South Africa

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