Skip to main content

The White Lie

Andrea Gillies


List Price: 24.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.

Other Editions of This Title:
Paperback (2/1/2012)


“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 highlands estate filled with threadbare furniture, patrician memories, and all their inevitable secrets. While gathered to celebrate 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 shaped by its shadow? 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.

Praise For The White Lie

"The true history of the Salter family lies at the heart of a web of secrecy and deception that is gradually unravelled... as the family realise that they are trapped in a cyclical pattern of their own creation."—The Times Literary Supplement

"A really terrific read... Elegant, well written, genuinely gripping."—Joanne Harris, author of Chocolat

"Absolutely searing... we have a major new talent in our midst."—Daily Express

"Gillies handles her large cast and clashing version of events with a precision that makes reading this imaginative novel a fascinating process of discovery."—Metro

"The prose is elegant and beautiful, and Gillies has a skill for creating both character and a sense of place; Peattie is so vividly described that I had no trouble imagining the crumbling interior or the sun-baked loch. I couldn't put The White Lie down."—For Book's Sake

"Gillies excels both at describing the landscape and at delineating those subcutaneous secrets and shared assumptions that bind families together."—Literary Review

"Fizzing with energy, suspense, and tense dialogue, this is an elegantly brilliant novel."—Red Magazine

"Andrea Gillies, winner of the 2009 Wellcome Trust Book Prize and the Orwell Prize for 2010, writes in The White Lie as if she herself lived in Peattie House, as if she draped the dust sheets in the rooms of the dead. As frustratingly obtuse and uncommunicative as many of the Salters are, the author encourages our understanding by artfully teasing out hurts, coping mechanisms and shortcomings many would recognize."—Book of the Month, Scots Magazine

"By the time I was half way through the book I was returning to it at every spare moment to find out what happened and it really wasn't what I was expecting..."—Bookbag

"Alongside an urge to uncover the truth, one feels a kind of pity for this big old family, flailing in the modern world in which aristocracy has no place... The tug of justice goes against the tug of family, loyalty towards an individual against loyalty towards something bigger and older than that. It is a tension that makes for a truly gripping read."—Emily Rhodes, Fiction Uncovered

"A wonderfully compelling portrait of a family haunted by secrets and lies...pitch perfect on the chilling, devastating consequences of guilt."—Sally Brampton

"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 of the ‘truth’ is revealed, if the lie has been lived? This novel develops ideas of the fragility and fluidity of identity. We all self-mythologize. 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

"Gillies's descriptions are precise, particularly of gardens, food and clothes, and often wry. Gillies relishes the absurdities of dialogue... the slow torture of barely enunciated rivalries and feuds keeps the Salters at odds in a particularly cruel, sad and funny northern European way."—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 rumors 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 tantalizing 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

"One hot summer day, Michael Salter, 19-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... Narrated by Michael from beyond the grave, Andrea Gillies's first venture into fiction after Keeper, her Orwell Prize-winning Alzheimer's memoir, unpicks the mesh of lies, some white, some not, that entangle the Salters... 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

Sunday Times June 2012 - One of "100 Essential Books for Summer"

“An engaging saga about the Salter clan, loosely narrated by Michael from beyond the grave...Gillies’s atmospheric prose perfectly complements this engrossing drama set against a creepy loch.” -- Publishers Weekly

"Gillies paints lovely, expansive landscapes and richly dimensional characters, which enhance the attractiveness of this intriguing first novel.” -- Booklist

Mariner Books, 9780544061033, 464pp.

Publication Date: December 3, 2013

About the Author

Andrea Gillies has worked as a writer and editor. She was praised by the New York Times as a "gorgeous writer" for her first book, the memoir Keeper, which won the Orwell Prize and the Wellcome Trust Book Prize.