Friday, November 4, 2011

LIAR

Review of LIAR by JUSTINE LARBALESTIER

Wow, do I ever admire Larbalestier for this book. It's tempting to play it safe as a writer - go with characters, settings, plot formulas that consistently do well - but I will always respect those who don't, who try something that hasn't been tested yet or that doesn't always succeed. In this case, LIAR has an unreliable narrator, something that can make a book soar high or flop hard and definitely a description that can turn off a potential reader. Why should I read a book where I can't trust anything the narrator says to be true? Because Larbalestier pulls it off; that's why.

I'll admit the style is the slightest bit confusing at first. If you read the back of the book, like I did, you know going in that Micah is unreliable: a liar. So I was immediately on guard not to believe a word from the start and that made for an unusual reading experience. Additionally, this book isn't sorted into standard chapters. Rather it's divided into short sections (less than a page to a few pages), some of which are entitled "before" and some "after." Before and after what? you may wonder. Right near the start we learn that Micah's boyfriend has died, possible been murdered. That’s the event around which this story centers.

The reason that this unreliable narrator works is because she's a real, likable teenager. Micah won me over and I wanted to keep reading whether she was lying to me or not. Also, there’s more to the plot than a girl who lies all the time. Or there isn't, depending on what you believe and what you don't! I at least believe that Micah's boyfriend really did die, and that there was some kind of foul play. Their realistic relationship also grounded the story, since it’s a dynamic I don't see too much of in YA fiction despite seeing a lot of it in real life.

Some of Micah's lies are easy to see coming when she confesses later. Some of them really sneak up on you! While Larbalestier does an amazing job with an unreliable narrator, the readers still need to resign themselves to an ending open to interpretation. Really, an entire book open to interpretation. One could spend hours arguing over the lies and the truths. Yes, Micah does claim to tell you the real truth in the end, but there's plenty of reason to still believe otherwise.

I want to believe Micah's last version of her story, implausible as it is, but that might be naive. While I admit that not knowing for certain did occasionally drive me crazy, I still took away from this book two points Micah made about lying that really resonated with me. The first: that lying is easier than one might imagine, because the victim wants to believe the lie. If they don't, they feel negative emotions such as anger and humiliation that someone would try to deceive them and that they almost bought it. So many hop along with the lies rather than play the guessing game of "is she/isn't she telling me the truth?" That may very well explain why I choose to believe Micah’s latest version of the story rather than wonder if this entire book masks yet another truth.

Whether or not Micah's final tale is the truth I still cling to the second, more personal, point she made about lying: that she lies to cover up the real truth, because it’s so convoluted and outrageous that no one would believe it. She would rather have people disbelieving her lies than her truth. If I trust nothing else that Micah said, I believe that.

2 comments:

  1. I think I'm going to have to agree to disagree with you on this one. I enjoyed it and I could definitely see that Larbalestier is an incredibly talented author, but there were a lot of moments, especially early in the book when I was tempted to put it down.

    For me, the most boring parts of the book were when Micah talked about Zach. As much as I enjoyed learning about their relationship dynamic, I feel like a lot fewer pages could have been devoted to the topic.

    I generally don't care for books that have strong romantic elements, so my problems with the book may be more a matter of taste than a reflection of any deficiency in Larbalestier's writing.

    That said, I would still recommend it. Overall, it was an enjoyable read and it gave me a lot of food for thought. It is one of those books that manages to touch on a lot of big questions without ever feeling preachy or forced.

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  2. I think it's biggest strength is also what kills it for a lot of people: the unreliable narrator. I'm one of the few people I know who actually enjoyed the supernatural twist, but I confess that it still drives me crazy that I'm not entirely sure if that was the truth or another lie.

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