The announcement that “The Ice Cream Girls” was getting a sequel, made me physically squeal, partly because Dorothy Koomson has been famously anti-sequel but also because I, naively, hoped for the perfect ending I felt had been denied in the first novel. In “All My Lies Are True”, satisfaction and stress battle it out as she reunites us with Poppy and Serena and the continued effects of the abuse they suffered at the hands of Marcus: their teacher and abuser.
I recall first reading Dorothy Koomson’s “The Ice Cream Girls” and feeling cheated by the ending. This is because the voice that closes out the story is the last voice you want to hear from. It left me with a bitter taste in my mouth, reminding me that we live in a world where sometimes evil triumphs. Koomson’s writing does that – gives no space for the tidy ending, making you try to come to terms with the messiness that is living and being in a world that remains a contradiction to itself. In Koomson’s narrative, the victim does not always get the victory arc because the shape of victory, particularly for the victimised, is a complex, moving, agonising journey whose destination can seem ever elusive.
This is not something that exists solely in her crime thrillers but has been something she has done for much of her work. Even my beloved “The Chocolate Run” – an iconic romance novel, ends with questions and unknowns about certain relationships as we see characters continue to make human decisions rather than the rational ones that you, the reader, would make because you have the luxury of perspective and bias to guide you.
“All My Lies Are True” focuses on Serena, Poppy, and their extended families. Serena’s daughter Verity is the voice that guides us into this story, and it is her narrative that shapes much of the collisions that happen in the novel. Through Verity, Koomson again explores abuse, but from a perspective where all parties are adults. In this story there are multiple examples of abuse, showcasing the many ways in which it can manifest and what happens when silence is the continued reaction. Silence is not just a burden carried by the victims but by those around them who are uncomfortable having the difficult discussions when they see a victim falling apart. Koomson asks us to question what we ignore, or let slide with friends and family.
As in “The Ice Cream Girls”, we are confronted with the impossibility of “he said, she said” that marks many cases of domestic abuse. What do you believe as the truth when you are presented with two similar but opposing versions of a story? On one hand, we see the complexities law officials are up against, with abuse cases, but Koomson also offers a critique of the biases that officially bring to these cases. In “All My Lies Are True”, Poppy and Serena’s past is a continued weapon against them and those they love despite claims that police officers in the present know better than those who handled their cases as pubescent girls. The assumption of guilt until proven innocent is again at play in the way the legal system has to be navigated, which contradicts what the system claims to be.
Koomson is no stranger to this critique, particularly of police officers and the judicial system. She tackles this in her novel “Tell Me Your Secret” where the curse of “the perfect victim”, fails many women who suffer at the hands of a serial rapist and killer. The police ignore many of these women because of biases against their lifestyles and backgrounds, waiting until the perfect victim appears before taking the issue seriously. This is a problem that many abuse victims come up against when reporting their abuse, not just to authority figures; a fact we have seen with the popularisation of the #metoo movement, but also everyday people, made clear by the discussions that people freely have on social media channels.
“All My Lies Are True” is necessary. Koomson needed to continue the conversation she began years ago. It was not until reading this sequel I realised just how important it was. In this novel, the continued effects of the abuse Poppy and Serena suffered is clear, years after the fact. That healing from sexual assault, particularly situations where the victim was groomed, is a lifelong journey is important to show particularly in helping us rethink how we collectively support victims of abuse.
Happily ever after is too simplistic a perspective to have when we talk about something as horrific/ complex as domestic abuse. My search for the perfect ending was again thankfully ignored as Koomson took me on a journey of remembrance – life is painful and beautiful and complicated and sad and confusing and messy and joyous and more, all at the same time. All can exist at the same time and the best way to live through it all is to tell and own our truth, difficult as it may be.