Déjà vu all over again

In Liars and Saints, Maile (pronounced may-lee) Meloy introduced us to the Santerres: Teddy and Yvette, and their daughters Clarissa and Margot, and son Jamie. Or rather, Margot’s son Jamie, whom Teddy and Yvette passed off as their child, after their teenage Catholic daughter gave birth in a French convent. Still with me?

The story had it all: lesbianism, incest, death. It was a soap opera without the cheapness of a soap: intelligently told, with sharp, funny characters who delivered some great one-liners.

Liars and Saints was anointed by Richard and Judy, which set it on a stellar path. It was nominated for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005 (it didn’t win – Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk about Kevin beat it) and went on to sell in dizzying numbers.

Of course it left Meloy with the classic successful first novel problem: how do you follow it?

Her solution was simple: tell the same story again, but differently. Her agent was said to have been horrified.

But I think it works. Abby, Teddy and Yvette’s grand-daughter, who was killed off in Liars and Saints is alive and kicking in A Family Daughter. In fact, the entire story revolves around her.

And here’s the clever part: she’s writing a novel based on her family – which is, of course, Liars and Saints.

A Family Daughter is, like its predecessor, funny, tragic and clever. Its short, episodic chapters are sparse but effective. Everybody is witty – their staircase wit never waits until the actual staircase. It’s a perfect world of clever retorts and articulate banter.

If you liked Liars and Saints, you’ll like A Family Daughter. You may even love it. But read them in sequence for the full effect.