Author: Justine Larbalestier
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA Children’s Books
Publishing Date: September 29, 2009
Hardcover: 384 pages
Stand alone or series: Stand alone
Summary: Micah will freely admit that she’s a compulsive liar, but that may be the one honest thing she’ll ever tell you. Over the years she’s duped her classmates, her teachers, and even her parents, and she’s always managed to stay one step ahead of her lies. That is, until her boyfriend dies under brutal circumstances and her dishonesty begins to catch up with her. But is it possible to tell the truth when lying comes as naturally as breathing? Taking readers deep into the psyche of a young woman who will say just about anything to convince them—and herself—that she’s finally come clean, Liar is a bone-chilling thriller that will have readers see-sawing between truths and lies right up to the end. Honestly.
Why did I read the book: Oh. Where do I start? The blurb. the cover. The online outcry about the cover. The premise. I love unreliable narrators.
Review: It starts with a promise:
“My father is a liar and so am I.
But I’m going to stop. I have to stop.
I will tell you my story and I will tell it straight. No lies, no omissions.
That’s my promise.
This time I truly mean it.”
Micah is the main character and the first-person narrator of this story, her story. She is a 17 year old girl who looks like a boy, the daughter of a black man and a white woman. She attends a private school for privileged white kids, but she is poor and she can only do that because she has a grant; she also has a boyfriend called Zach who goes to the same school. Micah loves three things: Zach, running (she is super, ultra fast) and her biology classes.
She is also a compulsive liar which is probably the most important thing you need to know about her. Her lies have made her a less than popular character in the school ever since she was mistook for a boy in her freshman year and she kept the ruse for two whole days. And when she was caught? She excused herself by telling everyone that she was a hermaphrodite.
When her boyfriend Zach is found dead and an investigation starts all the kids point the finger at Micah. No one really knows if he was murdered or not but the whispers start nonetheless. But Micah hasn’t seen him in days, has she? Of course, he is not really her boyfriend, given as how he has an official girlfriend called Sarah. Micah is more like an after-hours girlfriend but she swears that she has nothing to do with Zach’s death. But who can believe her?
“I am often in trouble. Mostly for things I have not done. I can’t expect to be believed. I am the girl who cried wolf.”
And that is really as far as I can go with details of the plot. As her solemn pledge attests, Micah is trying really hard to tell the truth – especially to the reader whom she is entrusting with her story. But can the reader trust Micah?
That’s where the brilliance of this novel lies. Because from page ONE, you don’t know if you can believe anything the narrator is telling you. Usually with unreliable narrators the truth creeps up on you slowly until it sinks in. But here? Every single thing that Micah ever tells the reader is subject to be scrutinised due to the fact that she is a known compulsive liar.
At some point half way through the book, there is The Twist or The Big Secret, and it blew my mind away. It sounds like the truth and it explains the first part of the novel and it explains why she lies in the first place. But then again, how can I possibly believe what she tells me, ever? But, she is so convincing. But isn’t that exactly what a compulsive liar is? But there are small clues, the small things she slips in, that makes one think about the nature of the things she lies about. THAT is the most important factor of all. Having said that: we are back to the unreliable narrative – how can I possibly base my interpretation of the book on what this narrator tells me?
The story is divided in small short sections divided in “After” and “Before” Zach’s death plus “History of Me” and “Family History” . Until later in the story when she starts to deconstruct some of her lies and how she did it. Because of that I am not sure I LIKE Micah. I am not sure I am supposed to. She is LYING to me. This whole book is like a written episode of Punk’d. I felt like Ashton Kutcher would show up at my house at any second.
Is Liar about character, or is it about narrative?
Because here is the truth and am I not lying to you: you do end up believing her. Actually, I found that the thing I wanted the most was to believe Micah, so very much. At least some of the things she says. It is impossible not to and that is because of the close relationship between the reader and the narrator and how one experiences a story. Days later and I am still thinking about it, theorising and most of all, I am psychologising it. Does she believe her own lies? What is the line between compulsive and pathological? Micah is aware of this conundrum, this impossible situation she has put her reader in and she taunts:
“You buy everything, don’t you? You make it too easy”
It is simply nerve wrecking. It also makes for a compelling, compulsive reading. I did not put the book – which is actually a simple thriller, a whodunit in its core- down.
Liar is abso-freaking-lutely brilliant. I loved it. Easily one of my fave reads this year.
Notable Quotes/ Parts: The opening of the second part. My jaw droped and I believed.
Additional Thoughts: A few ramblings on the unreliable narrator:
One of my favourite narrative modes – because I am a sucker for being outsmarted by the books I read. What can I say? That moment when one realises that what they read so far was not really the truth is one of the most exhilarating experiences when reading, at least for me. Either because the narrator straight out lied or omitted things; either because he/she believes in what they say because of say, bias or mental instability and it is down to the reader to realise that. I believe that books with unreliable narrators are those that require the most from the readers because it forces the reader to revaluate and revisit everything they read and saw to that point. I also think that the narrative mode is one that is not universally enjoyed as the unreliable narrator breaks that which is the most important thing between a reader and a book: trust.
There is also a weird line between writer and narrator in this narrative mode and I find that I am never more attuned to the writer and its presence within the book than when I am reading a book with an unreliable narrator. Because when that trust is broken it is easy to cross the line and blame the writer and not the narrator. In that sense, I can only but to assume that books like that most be really difficult to write? Any writers out there who would like to expand on that?
My first ever encounter with an unreliable narrator was when I was about 12 and it blew my mind away. It was Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I was a goner then.
I recently read a couple which I really enjoyed. Of course (and excuse me from bringing this one up again) there is The Thief by Megan Whalen Turner – narrated by Eugenides, the Thief.
The book has a major twist in the end that re-writes the whole story to that point. In this one case, Eugenides is an unreliable character not because of bias or because he lies – he simply chooses to disclose only certain aspects of the story. If you go back, you realise he never truly duped you – all the clues you need to know the truth are really quite clear for you to do so. It is really YOU who chose to believe certain things because of your own bias. Now, that is genius.
Another recent one is Jasmyn by Alex Bell. Again, without spoiling it for you, the whole story is told by her but she is unreliable – and she doesn’t even know that. Again, she is not lying nor she is biased. It is something else entirely.
On the other end of the spectrum, I recently read The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon and I did not like it and that is one the cases in which I could tell where the narrator ended and where the writer began and I ended up frustrated with the story and with the writer in the end.
Of course, I could not end these ramblings without mentioning my two favourite unreliable narrators in movies:
The nameless narrator/Tyler Durden from Fight Club and Roger “Verbal” Kint/ Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects. Both are total shockers and also totally, totally cool.
What about you? How do you feel about unreliable narrators? Any recommendations?
Verdict: I love unreliable narrators and Micah is the ULTIMATE unreliable narrator. This book is gripping, mind-blowing and brilliant. I Loved it.
Rating: 9, Damn Near Perfection
Reading Next: Tempt me at Twilight by Lisa Kleypas