Trillium Book Awards Author Reading 2015

Great Big Lies - The Children's Hour and The Human Stain

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Last night I went to see 'The Children's Hour' on stage in the West End here in London, a new production starring Keira Knightley, Elisabeth Moss, and Ellen Burstyn. It's a beautifully designed and directed production, gripping and times mesmerising. The stars are all terrific and the girl who plays the main child - Byrony Hannah - is great as well. I can confirm that Keira Knightley is amazingly beautiful, just in case you were wondering. When I got home last night I discovered that tickets for The Children’s Hour are so in demand they are selling on ebay for £1000 - about $1600 Cdn - each.

The critics here all seem to be focusing on praising the cast while condemning the play itself, saying it is clunky, dated and inferior. However I found the play rather moving and full of interesting ideas. It's not as though homophobia is a thing of the past. Nor is the idea that children can be manipulative liars without contemporary dramatic resonance. But the idea in the play that made me sit up and think as a fiction writer is this: it may well be the case that getting caught up in a very big lie ruins your life, but it is the fact that the big lie contains a grain of truth that will destroy you.

This reminds me of one of my favourite novels of the past decade, Philip Roth's The Human Stain. Recently Roth has had a great run of novels about old age but The Human Stain comes from his remarkable series on late middle age that includes The Plot Against America. In it the main character is falsely accused of racism, but closer examination of his life story reveals a much larger untruth. I found this novel riveting and memorable despite the fact that two of the three main female characters don't have much substance to them; one is, in fact, a rather grotesque stereotype of a French feminist. But no one reads Roth for his insight into women. Lillian Hellman’s play, The Children’s Hour, whatever its flaws, has great fleshy roles for women and this is part of what makes it so enjoyable.

The views expressed in the Writer-in-Residence blogs are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book: Toronto.

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Kate Pullinger

Kate Pullinger writes for both print and digital platforms. In 2009 her novel The Mistress of Nothing won the Governor General’s Literary Award for Fiction. Her prize-winning digital fiction projects, Inanimate Alice and Flight Paths: A Networked Novel, have reached audiences around the world.

Go to Kate Pullinger’s Author Page