Review: LIAR, by Justine Larbalestier

15Dec09

Title: LIAR

Author: Justine Larbalestier

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Year published: 2009

Recommended: Yes, to just about everyone, with the warning that you’ll end up with many questions and no clear answers at the end—but that’s the point.

Spoilers: No, and you should avoid them at all costs.

Like many others, I first heard of this book because of the controversy surrounding its cover. I won’t go into that for lack of space and eloquence, but you can (and should) read about it here and here. I have read a little bit of Larbalestier’s nonfiction, and I’ve link-surfed over to her blog on multiple occasions, so after seeing this cover a few too many times out of the corner of my eye, I went ahead and put a hold on it at the library.

Since it’s a new YA book, that meant I was the seventy-somethingth person in line. (This may make it hard for me to get instant gratification, but it’s a highly encouraging sign as far as I’m concerned—kids! Reading! Shock!) I waited long enough that I’d forgotten about it when it popped up, and it happened to arrive at my library the weekend before two major papers were due. Thus: no time to read.

Except when I’m in bed anyway, and my brain is fried. I made the mistake of starting LIAR late on Saturday night. I work on Sunday mornings, or I probably would have been up into the wee hours finishing it. LIAR is, quite simply, a joy to read.

That’s an odd phrase to use in conjunction with this book, because the story itself is anything but joyful. The narrator, Micah, has just lost someone very important to her, although the particulars of their relationship is one of the very many things that are up to interpretation in this book. Micah is a compulsive liar, but in the opening of the book she swears to tell the truth. This time.

But the lies start slipping out. First she starts lying to other people, and correcting herself to the reader. Then she lies in dialog and doesn’t correct herself. And from then on, you can’t trust what she says, because it keeps changing.

Larbalestier says that she wrote this book with at least two possible interpretations. If you look at the ‘spoilers’ thread on her blog (which you ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT until you’ve read the whole book), you’ll see that there are probably dozens of variations on these two main readings. The beauty of the book is that the uncertainty is so skillfully constructed it is impossible to definitively choose one version of “reality” over another. I’m sure there are those who have settled uncomfortably on one side or another, but for me to do so would diminish the story. Both possibilities exist, and they are both true and both false; the fluidity of the story is what gives it its power.

I say “joyful” because each lie is a revelation, a new layer of the mystery and the puzzle, and the process of uncovering them is exhilarating. Each subtle (or not-so-subtle) change becomes part of Micah’s truth. Whether that’s the factual truth or not is up to the reader.

I hope that Larbalestier doesn’t know which version of events is real. I hope that she believes all of them. Because that’s the way it seems in the book, and that’s the way I want to experience it: in its contradictions and its resonance and in its unanswered questions.

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One Response to “Review: LIAR, by Justine Larbalestier”

  1. Thank you for such a smart review. You’re spot on. I don’t know which versions of events is real. I’m not even sure Micah does.


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