My publisher won’t let me talk too much about the plot of We Were Liars, or even what it’s about. But I did read a lot of pretty wide-ranging books as I was writing the novel, so I’m telling you about those. I hope you’ll read them. They are amazing and inspiring.
Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson is a great amnesia thriller. There is amnesia in We Were Liars (though it is not quite a thriller), and memory loss poses a lot of tricky problems for a writer, in terms of how to deliver flashbacks, what to conceal, and how to make it all believable. Watson’s book was a sure-handed guide, and it kept me up all night.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë isn’t the great love story everyone imagines it is. Really, it’s the story of an obsessive connection fueled and then wrecked by race and class prejudice. I thought about this book a lot when I was writing.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie is the perfect novel of a sort that I adore—murder in a country house done one better with a murder on a private island. We Were Liars isn’t a murder mystery at all, but it is set on a private island, and I wanted to create that sense of people isolated from the rest of society, and an inkling of menace.
King Lear by William Shakespeare is the story of a mentally unstable king and his relationships with the three daughters who are competing to inherit his kingdom. My story likewise involves a patriarch and three daughters—though I’m more concerned with the grandchildren in such a family than I am with the daughters themselves. I also loved A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley, which is a very emotional reimagining of the same premise.
On a linked note, in writing We Were Liars I was interested in books about families that create their own mythologies, as the Sinclair family most certainly does. Two of my favorites are Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving and Geek Love by Katherine Dunn. I also read The Magnificent Ambersons by Booth Tarkington and Bridsehead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, both of which were very useful in deepening my thinking.