L’Amber by Tanith Lee (book review).

What is truth?

Fiction, by its nature, is a series of untruths perpetrated by the author since none of the events in a novel will have happened exactly like that even if they include features based on real events. Autobiographies may be largely true but are one person’s recollection of happenings that another may remember differently. The moment dialogue is introduced takes the telling further from reality even if the sentiment is accurate. In fiction, the use of first person can be the sign of an unreliable narrator. Can you trust what you are being told? Especially if it takes the form of a confession.

Tanith Lee wrote a number of books based around colours. ‘L’Amber’ is one of them. The title refers to a painting by one of the characters, the artist Jilaine Best. It is a landscape of a sunrise with a lake in the distance. The apostrophe in the title refers to the colour she has removed from the painting, lilac, creating a title that is both accurate and a pun.

Jay is a self-confessed liar. At the start of the book, she in working as a waitress in a down market café and has pretensions of being a writer but confesses to being too lazy to get on with a novel. When Jilaine walks in and mistakes Jay for someone else, Jay plays along as she finds the other woman fascinating. Jay contrives to meet Jilaine again and when Jilaine tells her that she wants a child, Jay claims to be pregnant. As Jay settles into the guest room of Jilaine’s luxury apartment, Jay has a problem.

If she is to continue living in luxury, she needs to get pregnant. The idea of sex for reproduction is distasteful to her as she prefers female lovers. Conveniently, there is a taxi driver, Jud, who has taken a fancy to her. She is prepared to use him to get what she needs. Jud though seems a little too good to be true but this saviour in a black cab is probably coloured by Jay’s narrative as the perfect gentleman. The fact that he conceals the fact that he has a daughter doesn’t tarnish Jay’s image of him.

All the major characters in ‘L’Amber’ have issues with the truth and even if the reader thinks they have unpicked the tangles, there will always be that uncertainty. Both Jay and Jilaine are selfish in their own ways, pursuing an agenda regardless of who gets hurt, though as Jilaine is rich, she is capable of doing the most damage.

The elements of fantasy are very slight, consisting of dreams Jilaine claims to have that govern some of her actions. There is a sense of horror in the way that the characters treat each other with, at times, a lack of sensitivity. Only Jud remains a gentleman.

As with all of Tanith Lee’s books, this has its own charm, degrees of subtlety and a good way of spending a few hours.

Pauline Morgan

March 2021

(pub: Immanion Press, 2011. 218 page paperback. Price: £11.99 (UK) $20.99 (US). ISBN: 978-1-907737-25-1)

check out website: www.immanion-press.com/

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