“She will imagine a ghost library of all the other books that aren’t there, and will never be there. All the voices and stories of women behind one kind of wall or another. Voices and stories stolen by thieves.”
Winning a scholarship to a writing workshop should be a dream come true for Charlotte Hodges. The workshop is led by Luca Bruni, Charlotte’s favorite author of all time at his private villa in Venice.
Being in Venice also gives Charlotte the chance she’s longed for to look into her ancestor Isabella Di Angelo. For generations, Charlotte’s family has held onto the knowledge that Isabella wrote a very famous poem that’s taught in just about every school now. A poem that’s always been attributed to a man. Without concrete proof, the true authorship is more family lore than fact. Charlotte hopes this summer she can change that.
Arriving in Venice, Charlotte finds the city more picturesque than she could imagine. But the villa is also more secluded–isolated, really. Bruni is even more charismatic in person. More brilliant. But he’s also much more erratic and, as Charlotte and the other young women on the retreat begin to realize, much more unsettling.
With help from an Italian grad student named Dante, Charlotte begins to uncover the truth about Isabella and the stolen poem. But as some secrets are revealed, Charlotte will have to decide if she wants to speak out about others about Bruni in One Great Lie (2021) by Deb Caletti.
One Great Lie is written in close third person following Charlotte’s perspective. Charlotte is white as are most characters although there is some diversity among the other students at the retreat. Each chapter in the book is prefaced with a brief epigraph detailing a different female writer from the Renaissance and the reasons why her works are not as well known as they should be or, in many cases, as they could be.
From the beginning the prose is so charged–the foreshadowing so deliberately ominous–that are immediately drawn in waiting for the ground to fall out from under Charlotte; knowing that it’s only a matter of time before a writing retreat that seems too good to be true is proven to be just that.
Charlotte’s work dismantling her admiration for Luca Bruni after witnessing his predatory behavior firsthand connects well to Charlotte’s efforts to prove Isabella’s authorship of a poem previously attributed (and stolen by) a prominent male Renaissance poet. Themes of feminism play out in both plot threads as Charlotte sees firsthand the damage Bruni has wraught while researching the ways her ancestor Isabella’s poem was stolen.
A sweet romance with Dante and Charlotte’s growing love for Venice tempers the otherwise tense narrative.
One Great Lie is a tautly paced novel filled with evocative settings and suspense as Charlotte unearths the truth and tries to right an historical wrong.
Possible Pairings: Revolution by Jennifer Donnelly, Da Vinci’s Tiger by L. M. Elliott, You Too?: 25 Voices Share Their #MeToo Stories by Janet Gurtler, Lawless Spaces by Corey Ann Haydu, Blood Water Paint by Joy McCullough, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V. E. Schwab, Love and Olives by Jenna Evans Welch