Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Liar, Justine Larbalestier

Hi everyone! Sorry about the lack of updates in the last week or so. Life has been so busy in the run-up to Christmas that I haven't even had much time for reading. There have been carol services, Christmas parties, musical rehearsals and a heap of overtime at work that have kept me from my beloved books. But I aten't dead* - although for the second Christmas in a row I've had my worst cold of the year - and hopefully there will be regular updates again from now on. I've also merged this blog with my film and TV review site, because I didn't update that one often enough to justify having a separate blog.

I preordered the paperback of Liar on Amazon a couple of months ago, and it turned up at home on Christmas Eve, by which time I'd all but forgotten about it, so it really was a surprise Christmas present from myself to me.

Micah is a compulsive liar, always has been. When she started high school she passed for a boy for a little while, with a boy's name, short hair and underdeveloped figure. Lies lead to more lies until no one knows what to believe about her. But when her sort-of boyfriend dies suddenly, it is time for her to tell her story. The truth. Or at least her truth.

The clue is there in the title: Liar. Micah vows again and again to tell the truth in her story, and then contradicts herself: okay, that was a lie but everything I say from here on is true. Well... except that bit. Oh, and that.
I wanted to see if you would buy it. And you did.
You buy everything, don't you?
You make it too easy.
You find yourself wondering what, if anything, you have been told is the "truth" - and what, after all is the true version of a work of fiction? The narrator's account, even if she is a pathological liar? After all, Micah is the only narrator we have. Are we supposed to read between the lines to understand what the author wants us to believe really happened? Many works of literature give you clues towards an alternative interpretation, but Larbalestier doesn't give us anything to go by except Micah's words, and as we have established, these can't be trusted. Instead, the reader has to draw their own conclusions, so that the book has as many meanings as it has readers.

It seems straight-forward enough at first, a contemporary crime story set among New York high school students. Halfway through, there is a sudden shift in genre which led me to think, "this is ridiculous! Surely we're not meant to believe that in this story?" It seems clear, at first, when Micah is telling the truth and when she is lying, then everything is shaken up and you're not sure what's what any more. Micah argues that she lies because we wouldn't believe the truth, and "maybe I lie because the world is better the way I tell it." We're left with a choice. We can accept her final version of her story, discard the parts she's confessed to be untrue and accept her story at face value. Or we can wonder, speculate and come to our own conclusions. I think I know my version of events, but to say more would be straying into spoiler territory.

A very intelligent read that will end up asking more questions than it answers.

*Terry Pratchett

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