Liar

I had a three day weekend for New Year's which I put to good use by reading some books, two of which have been on my most wanted list for awhile. The first one really annoyed me and never gelled, leaving me saying "Whatever" after five hundred pages but the second one grabbed me and sucked me in halfway down the first page. Liar by Justine Larbalestier is the kind of book that might have easily turned me off. The protagonist is a chronic liar and the most unreliable of narrators. The story is told from her perspective, first person singular, so every single bit of information we get is questionable. This is a bit much for me as I like to think the map I'm following has some resemblance to actual terrain. I thought reading the book was going to be something of a chore as I was going to have to be skeptical instead of just enjoying the ride, but instead it was a breeze and a pleasure, although it did make me say "Really?" often enough to annoy my poor children.

The protagonist is called Micah and she tells us on the first page that both she and her father are liars but she wants to tell her story straight, with no lies and no omissions. That's her promise and this time she really means it. Then she tells a convoluted story that is alinear, twisting back and in on itself, sometimes correcting earlier statements with the new "truth", and sometimes saying the most outrageous things without any hint that they might not be the purest of truths.

The book begins shortly after the murder of Josh, a boy that Micah cares deeply about. They go to the same school and Micah is Josh's after hours girlfriend. He has a regular girlfriend during school, or so Micah says, but can we believe her? We need some sort of baseline so that we can have at least a general idea of who Micah is, beyond being a liar. She says she's of mixed race, a high school senior, a grieving girl, a native New Yorker and that she keeps her hair short enough to be mistaken for a boy. But the cover of the book shows a girl with long hair, using it to hide her face, leading some readers to ask if we can trust even the most basic of biographical facts. (The original American cover featured a white girl, making things even more confusing.) The author has stated in the Liar FAQ that the aforementioned things are true; race, age, gender, neighborhood and that she and Zach had a reciprocal relationship. Her pain is real and vivid.

(Weirdly one of the biggest questions I had while reading the book was whether or not we can trust Micah's science. She has some interesting things to say about DNA and what a DNA test really shows. I wanted to know if what she was saying was valid but I didn't want to put the book down long enough to find out. I've seen some other people's reactions to the book and they all got stuck on something completely different. Perhaps I'm a little too interested in science.)

That's about all I can tell you about the story. I realize it's hardly anything but there's a reason for that. Let's take Hansel and Gretel, a story you probably know. I could tell it from the children's perspective, which is the one you most likely know. I could tell it from the POV of the witch, and focus on how hungry she is, how expensive sugar is, how cloying the smell of gingerbread gets after awhile, and what a little wretch Hansel the murderer is. Or I could tell the story as if I were one of the parents and talk about the grief of watching your children starve in front of you and how putting them out in the forest was the hardest decision in the world. Each of these is the same story, but different. Liar can be interpreted a number of very different ways and anything I say about it can tint the lenses through which you read the story. For the same reason you want to be very careful about reading reviews or comments on the story before you tackle the story itself. Even people who claim they love spoilers agreed that Liar is the exception that proves the rule.

Liar is one of the best books I've read recently. If I'd read it last year it would have to duel with Hunger Games for my favorite of the year. As it is the rest of what I read for the year is going to really work to live up to the bar Liar has set. It's been stuck in my head since I read it, giving me something to think about and puzzle over whenever I have a little quiet time.

You can read an excerpt here: http://justinelarbalestier.com/books/liar/excerpt/

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from The Green Thumb who writes in to say, "Please tell the director of Outdoor Room with Jamie Durie that it's all right for a camera shot to last more than seven seconds. I might enjoy the show if it weren't so ADD." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.