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The Lying Game

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About The Book

From the New York Times bestselling author of the “twisty-mystery” (Vulture) novel In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10, and The Turn of the Key comes Ruth Ware’s The Lying Game.

Isa Wilde knows something terrible has happened when she receives a text from an old friend. Why would Kate summon her and their two friends to the seaside town where they briefly attended the Salten House boarding school together seventeen years ago? The four friends had quickly bonded over the Lying Game—a risky contest that involved tricking fellow boarders and faculty with their lies. Now reunited, Isa, Kate, Thea, and Fatima discover that their past lies had far-reaching effects and criminal implications that threaten them all. In order to protect their reputations, and their friendship, they must uncover the truth about what really happened all those years ago.

Atmospheric and twisty, with just the right amount of chill, The Lying Game will have readers at the edge of their seats, not knowing who can be trusted in this tangled web of lies.

Reading Group Guide

This readers group guide for The Lying Game includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Ruth Ware. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.

Introduction

On a cool June morning, a woman is walking her dog in the idyllic coastal village of Salten along a tidal estuary known as the Reach. Before she can stop him, the dog charges into the water to retrieve what first appears to be a wayward stick, but to her horror, turns out to be a human bone.

The next morning, three women in and around London—Fatima, Thea, and Isa—receive the text they had always hoped would never come, from the fourth in their formerly inseparable clique, Kate. It says only “I need you.”

The four girls were best friends at Salten, a second-rate boarding school set near the cliffs of the English Channel. Each different in their own way, the four became inseparable and were notorious for playing the Lying Game, telling lies at every turn to both fellow boarders and faculty. The rules of the game are strict: no lying to each other—ever. Bail on the lie when it becomes clear it is about to be found out. But their little game had consequences . . . and as the four converge in present-day Salten, they realize their shared past was not as safely buried as they had once thought.

Atmospheric, twisty, and with just the right amount of chill to keep you wrong-footed, The Lying Game is told in Ruth Ware’s signature suspenseful style, lending itself to become another unputdownable thriller from the Agatha Christie of our time.

Topics and Questions for Discussion

1. Describe the Lying Game and its rules. What inspired Thea originally to come up with the idea for the game? Why do she and Kate decide to include Fatima and Isa in the Lying Game? What about the game is appealing to the girls?

2. Isa says that Kate “knows what we’ll say—what we’ve always said, whenever we got that text” (p. 5). Were you surprised by how quickly Isa, Fatima, and Thea rushed down to Salten upon receiving Kate’s text? Why do they rush to her aid so quickly? Do you have any friends whom you would do the same for?

3. Describe the Tide Mill. What role has it played in the adolescence of the girls in the clique, and why is it so important to Kate, in particular? Isa is convinced that Kate will never leave the Tide Mill or Salten. Did you think she was correct in her assessment as the novel progressed? Why might Kate be unwilling or unable to leave?

4. When Isa and her friends reunite at Salten seventeen years after they have been dismissed from school there, Thea gives the same toast that she gave when they were students: “To us . . . May we never grow old” (p. 56). What is Isa’s reaction to Thea’s toast? Were you surprised by it? Why do you think Isa reacts the way she does? How has she changed since leaving Salten as a student?

5. Each section of The Lying Game begins with a rule from the game. What’s the effect of having the rules as chapter headings? How do they inform your reading of the story?

6. Isa says, “I once tried to describe Ambrose to an old boyfriend . . . but I found it almost impossible” (p. 73). How would you describe Ambrose? What kind of a teacher and parent was he? Mary Wren says that Ambrose would have done anything for his children whereas Fatima describes him as “an irresponsible fool” (p. 243). Why do each of the women feel so differently about Ambrose? What did you think of him?

7. Isa’s housemistress tells her, “I’m very glad you’ve found friends. But remember, part of being a well-rounded young woman is having a wide variety of friends” (p. 99). Do you agree with the housemistress? What were some of the benefits of having such close friends? Mary describes Isa and her friends as a “little clique” (p. 105). Is that an accurate description? How does Isa feel about Mary’s description and the clique itself as an adult? Were there any disadvantages to being part of it?

8. Rick praises Kate for staying in Salten, telling her, “Your dad was a good man, no matter what others in this place say, and you done well to stick it out here with the gossips” (p. 23). Do you think that Kate is brave for staying in Salten? Why or why not? Discuss some of the rumors about Kate and her father. What are they? Why might the townspeople find them plausible? Were there any rumors that you thought had merit? Which ones and why?

9. On Isa’s first morning back at the Mill, Kate discovers a dead sheep. Who or what did you think was responsible for the sheep’s death? Why? Describe the note that Isa finds in Kate’s pocket. What does it say? Although Isa’s initial impulse is to tell Fatima, “a kind of instinct takes over” (p. 88). Why doesn’t Isa tell Fatima about the note? Would you?

10. When Isa reflects upon the events that took place, she muses that she will tell Freya “a story about bravery, and selflessness, and sacrifice” (p. 366). Do you agree with Isa? Do any of the characters in The Lying Game embody the traits that Isa enumerates? If so, who? How would you characterize the events that have taken place at Salten both during Isa’s school days and at the friends’ reunion?

11. When describing the events that happened shortly before their expulsion from Salten, Thea proclaims that the girls had no choice but to take the actions that they did. Do you agree with Isa when she cries, “Of course we had a choice!” (p. 197). Why or why not? Why might the girls have felt that they had no other options in the moment? Do you think that Kate took advantage of her friends when she asked for their help? If so, how?

12. Although Isa wants to tell Owen what she and her friends did while they were students at Salten, she feels she “can’t. Because it’s not only my secret—it’s theirs, too. And I have no right to betray them” (p. 223). Do you agree with Isa’s decision to withhold this information from Owen? Explain your answer. Do you think that there are any instances when it is permissible to betray a shared secret? If so, what are they?

13. Isa says that she and her friends “have spent seventeen years running and hiding, in our different ways” (p. 93). What are they hiding from? Describe the ways that each of the women has attempted to run from their shared past. Have any of their attempts been successful? Why or why not?

14. What were your initial impressions of Luc? Did you trust him? Why or why not? Describe his relationship with Ambrose and Kate. Were you surprised by his anger as an adult? Why does he harbor such resentment toward Kate? Do you think he is justified in doing so?

Enhance Your Book Club

1. When Isa is on the way to Salten, she muses, “It is heart-stoppingly familiar. London, in all the years I’ve lived there, has been constantly changing . . . But this line, this journey—it hasn’t changed at all” (p. 15). Are there any places in your life that remain unchanged? What are they? Tell your book club about them.

2. Of Kate, Fatima, and Thea, Isa says, “I can’t tell where I end and the others begin” (p. 143). Do you have friends like Isa’s? Share some details with your book club.

3. When you were in school, did you play any games like the Lying Game with your friends? If so, what did you call them? Tell your book club about the games you played, explaining the rules.

4. Owen treats Isa to a day at a spa and, although she doesn’t think it will help her relax, when she gives herself “over to the practiced hands of the spa therapist . . . somehow all the obsessive thoughts are pummeled out of me” (p. 260). Have you ever been to a spa? Did you find it similarly relaxing? Plan a spa day with your book club and unwind together.

5. To learn more about Ruth Ware, read excerpts from her books, and find out if she will be in a city near you, visit her official site at ruthware.com. You can also follow Ruth Ware on twitter at @ruthwarewriter for regular updates on her writing.

A Conversation with Ruth Ware

Both of your previous novels have been New York Times bestsellers. Given the success of your earlier books, did you feel any added pressure when writing The Lying Game? If so, how did you deal with it while you were writing?

I found the success of In a Dark, Dark Wood really distracting when I was writing The Woman in Cabin 10, but in a way the fact that Cabin 10 was doing well felt quite freeing while I was writing The Lying Game. I suppose my biggest worry was proving a “one-hit wonder.” The fact that Cabin 10 was giving Wood a run for its money made me feel like I was (hopefully) not just going to be a flash in the pan as a writer.

As a New York Times bestselling novelist, do you have any advice for aspiring writers? Is there anything that you wish you had known when you first began your career as a professional writer?

Oh, I wish there was a magic fix or some piece of advice that would smooth everything out—I’d bottle it and make a fortune! The only advice I can give to aspiring writers is to write the book that you would want to read, and hope other people agree. As for the publishing side . . . I guess one can do worse than follow the advice Rudyard Kipling gave in his poem “If,” particularly meeting with triumph and disaster just the same (which I interpret as good and bad reviews!).

You describe Salten and the girls’ experiences there so vividly. Was Salten based on a real place? How did you come up with it?

The landscape around Salten is sort of loosely based on Romney Marsh on the south coast, which is eerily beautiful and very isolated. But the Tide Mill is based on one I drove past one misty morning in northern France, in Brittany. It’s near a place called Saint-Suliac. The place I saw is definitely not habitable—it was quite clearly dilapidated beyond repair—but I was completely entranced by the landscape—the bleak, wide salt marshes, the bleached blue skies, and this black crumbling hulk slowly disappearing into the sea. I knew there and then I would end up putting it into a book.

The Lying Game is intricately plotted and filled with unexpected twists. When you began writing, did you know how the story would end?

I had the bones of the story in place from the outset, and the final cataclysmic scene at the Mill was in my mind from the beginning. But the exact twists and turns (including who was responsible for some of the creepier happenings) only revealed themselves in the writing.

There are so many memorable scenes in The Lying Game, from Isa’s train ride down to Salten where she meets Kate and Thea to the girls’ weekends at the Tide Mill. What were your favorite scenes to write? Why?

Ooh . . . hard question! Possibly my favorite was the scene where Isa meets Mary Wren at the post office for the first time. I love writing a scene with a good measure of conflict. But I also love the scenes where all the women are together, figuring stuff out. I really enjoy writing about female friendship. It’s an endlessly interesting dynamic for me.

In The Lying Game, the action alternates between the past when the girls were in school at Salten and present day. Was it difficult to switch between time periods while you were writing? Can you tell us about your writing process?

I write as if I’m someone reading the book—often people ask if I write one strand first, and then go back and seed in the other, but I don’t think I could keep track of who knows what, and the tension would come out wrong, so the answer is no—I write it more or less in the order you read it. (The more or less part being because sometimes my editors will ask me to go back and add an extra scene here or there.) I didn’t find it hard at all to switch back and forth; it felt very natural because the present strand is in the present tense, and the past strand is all linked to Isa’s memories. It did make it hard to edit, however. Normally you can move scenes around if you need to, to preserve a reveal for later in the book, or prolong the tension for some reason. But because all the past scenes are triggered by Isa’s memories—often by specific things that happen in the present-day narrative—it meant that it was really hard to change things.

Kirkus Reviews, Bustle, and Metro have all compared your writing to Agatha Christie’s. Were you influenced by Christie’s novels? Are there any other authors who have inspired you? Who are they?

I love Christie. I read her a huge amount as a teen and I still think there’s little more satisfying than curling up in front of the fire with a sumptuous Christie adaptation on the TV! But for this book, I think I was maybe more influenced by all the boarding school stories I read as a child. There’s maybe a bit of The Secret History in there, too.

Is there anything that has been particularly rewarding about publishing The Lying Game? If so, what?

Well, as I’m writing this, it hasn’t yet come out—so I’m still waiting for the most rewarding part, which is talking to readers and finding out what they made of my characters.

What would you like your readers to take away from The Lying Game? What compelled you to write it?

I’m quite resistant to telling people what they are supposed to find in a book—I don't like it as a reader, and so I try not to tell people how they should react, although I’m always interested in the different things people pick up on. But I suppose what compelled me to write it was thinking about the priorities in our lives and how our loyalties shift throughout our lifetimes—how we go from being small children, completely focused on our parents, to teens wrapped up in our friends, to love affairs, and then finally we become parents ourselves and that focus moves to our own children, and we would sacrifice almost anything to keep them safe. I’m not sure if I realized that that’s what I was writing about until I’d finished, though!

Are you working on anything now? Can you tell us about it?

I’m about to start my fourth book! It’s way too early to say very much about it, because I’m not sure if I’ve figured it out myself yet, but I think it might feature a bequest. . . .

About The Author

© Gemma Day Photography

Ruth Ware worked as a waitress, a bookseller, a teacher of English as a foreign language, and a press officer before settling down as a full-time writer. She now lives with her family in Sussex, on the south coast of England. She is the #1 New York Times and Globe and Mail (Toronto) bestselling author of In a Dark, Dark WoodThe Woman in Cabin 10The Lying GameThe Death of Mrs. WestawayThe Turn of the KeyOne by One; and The It Girl. Visit her at RuthWare.com or follow her on Twitter @RuthWareWriter.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (August 11, 2020)
  • Length: 416 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982143411

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Raves and Reviews

“This is the sort of territory where Ruth Ware is most at home. She’s strongest when she’s writing about embattled women, best when characters have a slight sense of privilege about themselves, most effective when events creep along the edges of disaster. Ware’s new book has all of this plus an air of foreboding that won’t go away.” 
TORONTO STAR

“An addictive mystery that reminds us how lies can come back to haunt us, even when we think they’re long buried. An absorbing summer read perfect for a stormy night out at the lake, The Lying Game will capture your attention and hold it until the very end.”
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

"So many questions... Until the very last page! Needless to say, I could not put this book down!"
REESE WITHERSPOON

"A single cryptic text, ‘I need you,’ reunites four friends in the stippled light of an English seaside village just as surely as it signals readers that they’re in the hands of a pro…The Lying Game makes good on its premise that tall tales have consequences, especially when they’re exposed to the glare of truth."
NEW YORK TIMES

"Ware's third outing is just as full of psychological suspense as her earlier books, but there is a quietness about this one, a slower unraveling of tension and fear, that elevates it above her others...Cancel your plans for the weekend when you sit down with this book, because you won't want to move until it's over."
KIRKUS REVIEWS, STARRED REVIEW

“Ware masterfully harnesses the millhouse’s decrepit menace to create a slow-rising sense of foreboding, darkening Isa’s recollections of the weeks leading to Ambrose’s disappearance… with arguably her most complex, fully realized characters yet, this one may become her biggest hit yet.”
BOOKLIST, STARRED REVIEW

"[An] engrossing psychological thriller... Ware builds up a rock-solid cast of intriguing characters and spins a mystery that will keep readers turning pages to the end.”
PUBLISHERS WEEKLY

"New York Times bestselling author Ruth Ware and her new thriller The Lying Game will have you full of anticipation."
LIBRARY JOURNAL

"From the author of the hit novel, The Woman in Cabin 10, comes another edge-of-your-seat thriller you don't want to miss."
BUSTLE

“Ware has become a household name in psychological suspense, and her third release is highly anticipated…[The Lying Game is] sure to be her next summer hit.”
ELITE DAILY

“Readers who've devoured Ware's bestsellers The Woman in Cabin 10 and In a Dark, Dark Wood won't need much encouragement to pick up a copy of her latest thriller. This story…is as gripping and atmospheric as Ware's previous books, with unexpected twists around every corner.”
BOOKPAGE

"Perhaps one of the most twisty and suspenseful titles of 2017."
MYSTERY TRIBUNE

"The Lying Game is tense, addictive, and not to be missed."
CRIME BY THE BOOK

"Fans of the mystery author who just won't quit will recognize Ware's singular ability to bait and switch in this wholly original story about four friends who conceive, innocently at first, a game of lies with dire repercussions."
MARIE CLAIRE

"Missing Big Little Lies? Dig into this psychological thriller about whether you can really trust your nearest and dearest."
COSMOPOLITAN

"The author of The Woman in Cabin 10 delivers a thoughful thriller about four friends whose shared childhood secret threatens them now. A gripping whodunnit."
GOOD HOUSEKEEPING

Praise for The Woman in Cabin 10

“Ware plunges the reader headlong into this action-packed, vivid tale, rendering one unable to come up for air until the very last page is turned.”
TORONTO STAR

“A fantastic read. A fog-enshrouded cruise ship, a twisty puzzle of a murder mystery reminiscent of Agatha Christie, and unrelenting suspense.  Batten down the hatches and prepare to read it in one sitting!”
SHARI LAPEÑA, author of The Couple Next Door

“A dark and gripping thriller that will enchant readers.”
SARAH WARD, author of In Bitter Chill

“A claustrophobic page-turner that’ll have you suspecting everyone. Agatha Christie for the WhatsApp generation.”
TAMAR COHEN, author of The Broken

“An atmospheric thriller as twisty and tension-filled as her debut.”
THE WASHINGTON POST

“A suspenseful mystery that entangles friendship, identity and memory with a possible murder.” 
METRO

"Ruth Ware is back with her second hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck-tingling tale."
MARIE CLAIRE

"A great modern whodunit!"
NEW YORK POST

Praise for In a Dark, Dark Wood

“Prepare to be scared . . . Really scared! When I read this page-turning book about a bachelorette party gone wrong, I almost bit all my fingernails off!”
REESE WITHERSPOON

“Who pulls a gun at a bachelorette party? The answers are unveiled with Gillian Flynn–style trickery.”
O, THE OPRAH MAGAZINE

“Reese Witherspoon’s making it into a movie, so read the book now. Before bed at your own risk.”
THE SKIMM

“Just try to guess how sinister this plot can get (hint: VERY).”
MARIE CLAIRE

“[It] packs a noirish punch that would make the Queen of Crime herself proud.”
BUSTLE

“Ruth Ware has written an exciting and amazing book that never stops circling the reader and clapping its cold hands over her eyes.”
PETER STRAUB, New York Times bestselling author

Praise for Turn of the Key:

“Irresistible from first page to final line.”
THE GLOBE AND MAIL

"Let’s just say that if you’ve got an Echo, you’re going to unplug it as soon as you finish the book. . . . What Ware does beautifully is infuse The Turn of the Key with a creepy Gothic sensibility. For all of the novel’s contemporary touches—particularly the house’s malevolent smart technology—she has delivered an old-fashioned horror story, peopled by children with ‘eyes full of malice,’ a dour housekeeper straight out of Rebecca and an inscrutable handyman."
— THE NEW YORK TIMES BOOK REVIEW

"A superb suspense writer. . . . Ware is a master at signaling the presence of evil at the most mundane moments. . . . Rowan stays put for reasons we won’t understand until the final act of this tragedy. And that’s when Ware’s gifts for structuring an ingenious suspense narrative really come to the fore. . . . Ware pulls out a stunner on the penultimate page that radically alters how we interpret everything that’s come before. Brava, Ruth Ware. I daresay even Henry James would be impressed." 
— THE WASHINGTON POST

“This appropriately twisty Turn of the Screw update finds the Woman in Cabin 10 author in her most menacing mode, unfurling a shocking saga of murder and deception.”
— ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY

"A ghost story for the twenty-first century, a propulsive gothic thriller with characters you’ll really care about. With this book, Ruth Ware proves she’s the true heir to Wilkie Collins. Creepy, engrossing, and oh-so-hard to put down."
— JP DELANEY, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Before

"Ruth Ware has been called the Agatha Christie of our generation… The Turn of the Key is a great read. You’re going to enjoy it very much." 
— DAVID BALDACCI, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Redemption and One Good Deed

"Ware cleverly puts a high-tech spin on [The Turn of the Screw’s] gothic foundations of spellbinding menace set in a remote cavernous mansion with mysterious locked doors and a spooky garden… Ware’s James-like embroidery of the strange and sinister produces a Turn of the Screw with cellphones and Teslas that will enthrall today’s readers… it will not disappoint."
— BOOKLIST, starred review

"Diabolically clever. Twisty and creepy, The Turn of the Key is Ruth Ware's best book yet. Read with a blanket nearby, because you will get shivers up your spine."
— RILEY SAGAR, New York Times bestselling author of The Last Time I Lied

"Ware hits another one out of the park. Fans of hers or anyone with a taste for the disturbing will stay up late devouring this."
— LIBRARY JOURNAL, starred review

“Ware does a good job of creating tension. . . . But above all, Ware skillfully lays the bread crumbs to the novel’s satisfying conclusion . . . [that] leaves readers with one final, haunting question, one that will stay with them long after they turn the last page.”
 PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, starred review

"Pure suspense, from the first gripping page to the last shocking twist."
— ERIN KELLY, bestselling author of He Said/She Said

“Truly terrifying! Ware perfects her ability to craft atmosphere and sustain tension with each novel.”
KIRKUS REVIEWS

"If you've never spent a long weekend devouring a Ruth Ware thriller on a hammock, this is the summer to start. Her fifth novel, The Turn of the Key, is set in the Scottish Highlands and is as compulsively readable as you would expect a Ware book to be."
— CBS WATCH! MAGAZINE

"Chilling."
— MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE

“We hope it’s not too much to say that Ruth Ware is the future of traditional mystery in contemporary settings; each of her novels takes us into well-worn territory and reinvents for the present day. Her upcoming mystery is no exception.”
— CRIMEREADS

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