Sometimes you read two books that have a kind of connection. At first sight they seem to have nothing to do with each other, but somehow they fit together. This recently happened to me with two summer reads. Both books gave me this lazy summer vacation feeling, like August will last longer than just 31 days. The first book – We Were Liars by E. Lockhart – is a YA novel about four kids, the Liars, who spent every summer on grandfather’s private island. Then one summer something terrible happens and there is a twist at the end! The second novel – To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf – is a 1920’s masterpiece about the rich Ramsey family who have a son that desperately wants to go to the lighthouse. The similarities are astounding! To decide which of these books is actually the ultimate beach read we need to have a Beach Off. What do these books have in common and which does it better? Let’s see which books wins an honorary place in your suitcase.
At the head of both families is an oppressing father figure, making all the rules and ruining everyone’s fun. In We Were Liars it’s granddad. His wife died not all that long ago and after staring death in the face he turns into a power hungry maniac. He lets his three daughters fight constantly about who is more worthy of his love and his inheritance. Cadence (our We Were Liars main character) tells us about these horrible psychological games by using cute, disengaging fairy tales so no one actually has to deal with the horror.
In To The Lighthouse, Mr. Ramsey is the man of the house. He will say if James (son who desperately wants to go to the lighthouse) gets to go to the lighthouse and more often than not his children think of ways to murder him. But he’s not an unkind man. Just an intellectual who can see he’s not as important as he thought he would be and that would make anyone tyrannical, now wouldn’t it?
Rich family home
The Liars get to visit their granddad’s private island every summer. On this island all three daughters have their own house where they can stay with their children. The houses were built especially for them and they are old-timey and pretty looking. I kept imagining them like small Disney castles. On the island there is a small beach for these kids to lounge on, where they concoct devious plans and engage in some kind of semi-incestuous petting. Downsides to the island are that they are completely isolated and only reachable by boat. So a great place for a zombie apocalypse, but a terrible place for a normal emergency.
The Ramsey family spends their time on the Isle of Skye in a large and lofty manor. The light of the lighthouse will swoop by their windows and temporarily grace their lives with its presence. The nearby villagers are friendly and quaint and the surroundings are nice enough for Lily Briscoe (family friend) to paint. It’s simply idyllic as the lovely Scottish beach side is even graced with soft, warm weather.
If it was up to me, I’d choose the English Isles every day above the crazy island the Liars inhabit. That place is a death trap. Though the Liars have the more luxurious home and own an entire island, so the point should go to them.
Why are there so many kids?
Both stories are infested with children. In We Were Liars we have the four main characters Cadence, Johnny, Mirren and Gat. Then we have the younger brothers and sisters Will, Liberty, Taft and Bonnie. Only Gat isn’t part of the Sinclair family, as he is just the nephew of some guy who has been dating one of the three daughters. So 8 kids, of which 7 are part of the family!
In To The Lighthouse we have James, Andrew, Jasper, Roger, Prue, Rose, Nancy and Cam Ramsey. Besides her own children, Mrs. Ramsey enjoys having other youngsters around as well. She invited Paul Rayley, Minta Doyle, Lily Briscoe and Charles Tansley to lazily wander about the house with them. That makes a total of 7 sons and daughters and 4 other kids to keep them company.
These books contain remarkably little romance! Sure, there is a lot of coupling going on, but romance isn’t one of the main plot points for either of these books. In We Were Liars, we are saved by the budding romance between Cadence and Gat which can get somewhat steamy at times. They hook up a bit and we read vaguely about some teenage petting. It’s not enough to call the book romantic in the least, but it’s something.
To The Lighthouse is romantic, but only in a geriatric kind of way. Don’t expect actual steaminess from this 1920s novel. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsey have been together for a long time and it’s sweet to see how they still love each other. At the same time Paul and Minta also hook up, but all that is written so tame, that in no way it will make you swoon.
*Spoiler warning* Skip the next two if you don’t want to know anything about the progression of the story.
The deathly twist
If you’ve read anything about We Were Liars, it is that the ending is a twist in the vain of M. Night Shyamalan. There are supposed to be some signs to the ultimate ending, making sure you could have seen it coming, but it still threw me. Without giving too much away, We Were Liars ends on a dire note went Cadence finally finds out what has happened on the night she got plot-convenient amnesia. Death reigns on Liars Island and if you get past the fact that the twist is immensely clichéd, it does have some emotional value to it.
However, this is nothing compared to Part Two of To The Lighthouse – Time Passes – where Woolf slowly narrates the decay of the Ramsey House and Ramsey family over the span of several years. The fate of some of the Ramseys is told in off-handed comments that caught me completely off guard and chilled me to the bone.
What are they even lying about and will they ever get to that damned Lighthouse?
Comparing the usefulness of the titles is pretty useless, but with both books it was something I kept thinking about. We Were Liars positions the Sinclair children as liars, but they really don’t lie all that often. Of course they get into trouble, but not really because they’re lying. They’re not even omitting the truth, they just plainly don’t say anything at all. Besides the Liars calling themselves liars a couple of times, there really is no need for this title.
To The Lighthouse is constantly remarking on the lighthouse, making it clear in Part One that they are definitely not going there. Throughout the book it is doubtful that the children will actually get to visit the lighthouse and just like James I felt very anxious about the whole thing. Bit when they finally do go there in the third part, even though we only get to see it for a little bit, it is nothing less than marvellous.
There you have it! According to this very biased Beach Off you should just bring both books. You can’t have too much to read anyway. If you’ve read one or both books or if you have a Beach Off of your own, let us know in the comments!