I want to mention how hard it is to review this book without spoiling it because everything that you want to discuss is a spoiler. It’s a testament to the book that I’m trying at all though because as all my friends will tell you I love me some spoilers but with this book even I agree that it’s best not to be spoiled and so I’m trying to stick with that which will necessitate some vagueness on my part.
First thing I will say is that Liar was one of those books that I got to the end of and my first thought was, ‘Damn, why didn’t I write that!”. Some of you may have heard of the novel because of the controversy of it’s American cover originally featuring a white girl with blond hair when the protagonist is of mixed race background. The whole thing is detailed on Larbalestier’s blog [here and here]. That was what brought the book to my attention initially but I was too bogged down in grad school to really pay attention. Then I started to hear a lot of praise for the book once it was released. After finishing the work I can say I think the praise is well deserved.
Larbalestier does a great job of keeping you guessing. It’s all about a young girl Micah, a girl who freely admits to being a compulsive liar (if not a pathological one…maybe). Micah’s boyfriend has just died which is complicated by a number of facts: his official girlfriend, Micah’s web of lies slowly crumbling and a police investigation. I am not a fan of unreliable narrators, however I have in the past been a fan of novels with unreliable narrators such as From The Notebooks of Dr. Brain by Minister Faust which is an important distinction. Sometimes a works may be amazing and you may feel it needed to be written but you don’t exactly like it for whatever reason.
However Larbalestier achieves which Faust did not (which is not really a criticism since I don’t think it was his intention at all), she makes me really like an unreliable narrator. When you think about that it’s a pretty amazing thing. I am given a character who I cannot trust who openly admits to lying to everyone and I want to believe her, I want to trust her, I want to understand her. It’s a pretty skillful trick to pull off. The very fact that Micah tells us she’s a liar makes the reader want to believe her, to believe that they are special and worthy of the truth where no one else is not. We want to believe that we understand why she lies, and can see the difference and falling into that thinking especially in a book like this is dangerous.
All that being said for me the last fifth of the book seemed weaker than the rest in terms of the balance kept between all the possibilities of Micah’s truth. For me a lot of the genius of this book is that you get to select the truth for yourself from Micah’s tale however in those last pages it felt as if I could see what the author wanted me to believe or the ending that she herself leaned towards. She says on her website that she had no particular preference so it could just be me and as someone who’s not that big a believer in authorial intent this shouldn’t bother me at all anyway but I did find it hampering my enjoyment of the book a little towards the end.
Overall I loved the book and would recommend that everyone pick up a copy and read it. It’s far from a light read so if you’re looking for a traditionally conformative happy ending you may be sorely disappointed…or not depending on how you see it.
I give it four and a half severed elf heads out of five (and if someone makes me a graphic I can use for this rating system you’ll be my favorite ever)
Currently Reading: The Family Tree by Sheri S. Tepper