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A Pack of Lies
A Pack of Lies cover.jpg
First edition
Author Geraldine McCaughrean
Cover artist Robina Green
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Children's novel
Publisher Oxford University Press
Publication date
December 1988
Media type Print (hardcover, paperback)
Pages 168 pp (first edition)
ISBN 0-19-271612-3
OCLC 17982275
LC Class PZ7.M4784133 Pac 2009

A Pack of Lies: twelve stories in one is a children's novel with metafictional elements, written by Geraldine McCaughrean and published by Oxford in 1988. It features a family antique shop whose new salesman tells historical tales to sell antiques. The stories vary widely in type.

McCaughrean won the annual Carnegie Medal from the Library Association, recognising the year's best children's book by a British subject. She also won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize, a similar award that authors may not win twice. Six books have won both awards in 45 years through 2011.

Scholastic published a US edition in 1991.

Plot summary

The narrative follows the age-old pattern of separate stories embedded within a primary story, as in the Panchatantra, the Arabian Nights and the Canterbury Tales. Each of the stories is linked to a different piece of furniture in an antique shop, and the question arises as to whether the stories are pure invention ("a pack of lies") or could perhaps be true – and what their being "true" would mean about the narrator.

A young man with the unlikely name of MCC Berkshire ("from Reading") follows Ailsa home from the library and talks himself into an unpaid job in her mother's run-down antique shop – all he asks is somewhere to sleep and books to read. He has a wonderful way of assessing the customers and suiting the provenance he gives the furniture to their interests. Moreover, he seems to adapt himself – his accent, his manner, his personal history – to the story being told, which also seems to be inspired by the book he has just been reading. When chided by Mrs Povey for telling lies, he responds: "'Not lies, madam.... Fiction. That's the thing to give 'em. That's the thing everyone wants. Fiction, madam!' "

Ailsa and Mrs Povey, while grateful to MCC for his help and enjoying his company, often have doubts about him, while Uncle Clive, on a brief visit, is positively hostile. After the Poveys' financial problems are suddenly solved, literally from the pages of a book, the scene is set for MCC's departure. In the final chapter Ailsa realises the shocking truth, while the reader realises that Ailsa's reality is another of MCC's tales.

The characters

  • MCC Berkshire, a mysterious stranger, an inveterate reader and spinner of tales
  • Ailsa Povey, a schoolgirl
  • Audrey Povey, Ailsa's widowed mother, who owns Povey's Antiquary, a junk shop
  • Clive Povey, Ailsa's uncle, Audrey's brother-in-law, a bossy bad-tempered businessman
  • Mr Singh, the owner of the newsagent's shop next door to Povey's Antiquary
  • Mrs Millet, Deputy Librarian

The stories

The stories range in subject matter from romance to piracy, in style from police procedural to narrative poetry, in setting from early twentieth century Ireland to ancient China. Most are also morality tales, based on some human weakness such as gluttony or vanity.

  • The Clock: A Story of Superstition
  • The Writing Box: The Story of a Liar
  • The Plate: A Question of Values
  • The Table: A Story of Gluttony
  • The Harpsichord: A Story of Honour and Trust
  • The Umbrella-Stand: A Story of Temper
  • The Mirror: A Story of Vanity
  • The Roll-Top Chest: A Question of Whodunnit
  • The Wooden Chest: A Story of Betrayal
  • The Lead Soldier: A Story of Pride
  • The Bed: A Story of Horrors Unspeakable
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