A Pack of Lies: Twelve Stories in One Hardcover – Apr 1989
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From Publishers Weekly
Mrs. Povey's antique business is a disaster--she is so honest about flaws in objects that she talks customers out of buying them, and undercharges people when she finally makes a sale. Then along comes MCC Berkshire, a mysterious helper who insists on working for nothing. Both Mrs. Povey and her daughter, Ailsa, are quickly out-dueled by the man's skilled use of language and his irrefutable logic. He tells elaborate stories about objects in the shop, verbally seducing each potential buyer into making a purchase. Each chapter amounts to a short story about a particular object, but MCC and McCaughrean aren't content to create mere diversions. Each story is written in a different literary style (gothic, epic, folkloric), all of them enthralling. The author leaps from genre to genre, in the writing equivalent of sleight of hand. Within each tale are surprising twists and turns that overlap and extend the stories-within-stories; McCaughrean pulls off each meta-fictional complexity with finesse and humor. Ages 10-13.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
Grade 7-12-- This sophisticated book weaves a varied set of stories into a larger tale with a strong British style and content. Ailsa and her mother are constantly struggling to keep bills paid and food on the table, so adding another person the household is the last thing they need to do. However, when Ailsa meets MCC Berkshire (from "Reading") in the library, she brings him to her mother's antique store where he takes up residence on an old bed that's for sale. He quickly improves business by captivating his unsuspecting audiences (customers) with tales about the various items they eventually buy. The stories, or "pack of lies," MCC Berkshire tells are filled with adventure, horror, romance, comedy, tragedy, or mystery. Even though Ailsa and her mother don't know whether to trust this man or not, a growing relationship binds them all in this unusual piece of fiction with surprising twists at the end. McCaughrean is eloquent and flawless in her style. --Judie Porter, Media Services Center, Portsmouth School Department, R.I.
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Business is slow so Berkshire makes up stories based on the books he reads with a passion. People cannot resist buying an item that has a story attached to it. Something is a bit odd about Berkshire and the stories he tells may not be lies after all.
I found the book entertaining, but I felt not enough words were spent on Ailsa and her mother and their lives. I found I lost interest when Berkshire was telling some of his stories
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
This is a perfect set of short tales for any over-imaginative or puzzle-solving child, young adult, or adult who doesn't mind reading "kid's stuff." I wouldn't recommend it for much younger than 8 in general, but some younger children will enjoy it also.
In the frame story, British teenage girl Ailsa is shaken free of her boring life by the strange appearance of a man during her field trip to the library. Without a name, an ID number, or a place to live, he might have just dropped from the sky.
He's strangely persuasive, and very well-read, and he's just the person to help Ailsa and her mother sell the strange knick-nacks and furniture in their Second-Hand Shop. He works for free, but he tells any customer who will listen the most amazing pack of lies about the items they are interested in. The stories he tells are fantastic, but not really fantasy. Perhaps they may even be true!
The real question is, what is MCC really trying to sell, and to whom?
The frame story is quite fun, with hints and clues scattered about, and the slow dawning of realization in at least one of the characters makes a sobering counterpoint to the overall lighthearted tone. The stories themselves (eleven inside the frame) are fairly solid.
In order, we get
1) An Irish Tall Tale
2) An Indian Morality Tale
3) A Chinese Love Story
4) A Bizarre "Manners" Poem (also a morality tale)
5) A High-Seas Adventure
6) A Welsh Character Study
7) A Regency Suspense/Horror Story
8) A Funny "Inept Investigator" Crime Procedural
9) A Papist Tragedy
10) A Tragic War-Story/Relationship Study
11) A Hysterical Transylvanian "Horror" Tale
Of them all, the weakest to me are the Poem (not bad, but not really as scathing or funny as it could have been, and really there's just not much there), and the Transylvanian Tale, which is sad, because it was quite funny. However, it was the most fanstasical of them all, and where in a true horror/suspense story, the fantastic elements are more accepted, here, in a comic sense, they were more glaring, and didn't quite seem to fit with the rest of the stories.
This is a perfect one for bedtime reading for kids old enough to be read to, but too old for 'storybooks.' Each story is just long enough (and interesting enough) for some good bedtime reading, and none are the sorts of stories that raise fears or deep thoughts.
"A Pack of Lies" is not obviously fantasy--the setting is contemporary, and "magic" per se does not exist in any tangible form. It is referred to as being "twelve stories in one" because the book comprises twelve stories within the main plotline. Part of the author's genius is that each story has its own distinctive style, each suited for the atmosphere and setting of that particular story. The tales range from lighthearted to moving to downright sinister, and each has its place within the main story as a whole, like gems in a beautiful setting. There are a couple of weak ones, like the "horror" story and the poem, which some might find a disappointing replacement for a story. But these are more than made up for by the others; each is lovely in its own unique way.
The book is also worth reading for the wonderful characters, who capture the reader's emotions despite the short space they have been alotted. The connection one feels by the end is what makes the ending so climactic...and of course I won't give it away.
What I so admire about this author is that she conceived a brilliant idea, went with it, and succeeded better than most writers ever could have. It is a shame that she has not written any other books, and equally a shame that this masterwork of hers has not earned the public recognition it deserves.
The characters are fun and interesting, especially the fascinating MCC Berkshire; and one feels a certain empathy for the adolescent Ailsa, trapped in a boring life with her widowed Mother, helping out at the family shop.
Ailsa meets the strange Mr Berkshire whilst doing work experience at her local library. He is in need of employment and a place to stay. Her mother is in need of someone to help in the shop. And it appears that MCC, though unorthodox in his methods, is able to sell almost anything.
I found the book very easy to read, and the "stories within the story" compelling.
A great book with a very neat little twist at the end.
I gifted this to my nephew confined to a sickbed after an operation as well as the audiobook of McCaughrean's authorised sequel to Peter Pan. I am sure I will have occasions to come where I gift this book again and again.