Liar, by Justine Larbalestier

Due to the nature of this book, I don’t think I can write a review without providing any spoilers. They won’t be anything major, but if you’d rather read the book without them then you should probably just read the first paragraph.

I read this book a few months ago and never got around to posting a review. The basic plot deals with the aftermath of Micah’s boyfriend going missing before being found dead. The premise of the novel is that the narrator, Micah, is a pathological liar but, as she says in the opening pages, this time she’s going to tell the truth. It soon transpires that this, too, is a lie. She first tells us about her interactions with a character, then says she invented him just to see if she could do it (this is the main reason behind most of her lies, she claims), then finally says that he was real, but he died. Each time she revises the truth she insists that this time, it’s the real truth, and gives an explanation for lying the previous time.

The book is divided into three sections. The first seems relatively straightforward, dealing with Micah’s interactions with her classmates, her family, and the police in the aftermath of her boyfriend, Zachary’s, death. There are also regular flashbacks to events before Zachary’s death; chapters are thus noted as being either ‘Before’ or ‘After’.

The second section veers into supernatural territory. It begins with a startling revelation from Micah that is at once unbelievable and at the same time explains many of the gaps in the first section. Because of what we know of Micah, this could be the truth that explains what didn’t make sense before, or it could be an elaborate lie on her part just to see if she can convince the audience. Then again, maybe Micah’s invented the entire story, in that throughout the book the reader is never quite sure of what is ‘true’ in the life of Micah the character.

The third section continues with the revelation that opened the second section and ties up the matter of Zachary’s death, amongst other things. By the end of the novel, Micah’s story seems to both be wholly explained and wholly confusing. It seems to resolve everything, but at the same time there’s always the nagging reminder that she’s the ultimate in unreliably narration.

This is one of the things I love about the book; that every single thing Micah says may or may not be true. Is her mother really from France? Does she really live in New York? Did Zachary ever even exist, or was he just another fabrication? In this way, I think it’s a book that would really benefit from a re-reading, because you ‘learn’ new things that contradict earlier statements throughout the book, so knowing the ‘truth’ about her brother that she reveals at the end would colour her interactions with him in the earlier pages. Then again, maybe that first ‘truth’ about her brother really is factual.

The way Larbalestier has woven this book together is another thing I really liked about it. I was regularly in awe of the skill it must take to keep all these stories straight without accidentally contradicting herself or revealing something that should be kept secret until later. Most authors have information they don’t reveal to the audience until an appropriate time, and many mislead the audience with false information. Generally-speaking, however, the narrator/protag is as much in the dark as the reader. In Micah’s case, however, the narrator is not misled, but misleading, and that’s what makes this such a remarkable book to read.

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7 thoughts on “Liar, by Justine Larbalestier

  1. And then of course it is quite possible that the whole thing is in actuality simply a novel, and *none* of it is really true.

    But then, of course I may simply be dreaming any of this.

    And then again, perhaps *you* are dreaming *me*.

    We can only hope there will be a sequel which answers these troubling questions.

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      1. Well, his government does want to reduce funding for university arts programmes, and this is what happens when you do.

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      2. Ah, so that’s it. Thanks for enlightening me. No surprise really, he never struck me as much of a reader nor of having much imagination. The two are probably linked.

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