Title: Liar

Author: Justine Larbalestier

Genre: YA/Thriller

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

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31 Responses to Book Review: Liar by Justine Larbalestier

  1. Memory says:

    This just became a must-read.

    I love unreliable narrators. I’m the kind of reader who wants to trust everything, and I really have to step back and make myself question what the narrator’s saying. I have a blast doing so. Anne Rice’s characters are great for this; they’ve all got conflicting accounts of what went down, and one character’s opinion of another can cast that character’s entire narrative into question. She’s never in-your-face about it, but I have a lot of fun unravelling the different stories.

  2. StephanieD says:

    I now have to read this book. I first heard about it because of the cover controversy (white girl on the cover of some editions: http://justinelarbalestier.com/blog/2009/07/23/aint-that-a-shame/) but I’m glad that the novel itself delivers.

    Re unreliable narrators: I’m glad you mentioned Roger Ackroyd. That was actually the first instance where I had encountered it and Christie got me good all the way to the end.

    I’ve heard a lot of people say they do not like unreliable narrators because it is considered to be gimmicky and/or the story relies too much on it. Do you think that without this device, Liar would not be as memorable? Could the author have used her big twist without it or could there have been an alternate way the story could have been told and still have been as effective?

  3. Cara Powers says:

    You have convinced me that I absolutely must read this book. Good job. I’m a hard sell.

  4. Interesting… Will have to add it to the TBR list!!

  5. Christine says:

    Hmm. You’ve convinced me that I have to read Liar, but at the same time, I don’t like being lied to–I’d much rather have the truth as painful as it might be, so the lying might drive me bonkers. But I believe curiosity will win out and compel me to check it out anyway. :P

  6. bookalicious says:

    GEE, THANKS FOR SPOILING ROGER ACKROYD FOR ME!!! :((( So I’m just scrolling down to see how you rated the book and I see a cover of Roger Ackroyd and I’m like, “Oh, what’s that doing here?” and to find out I read the line above the picture and I see the spoiler before I see it’s a spoiler and then it registers and it’s too late. :( I was really going to read that book soon to find out what was so special about it, but not this way, I actually wanted to enjoy the book.
    All I’m saying is, you might want to change your way of posting spoilers because this one truly sucks. :(

  7. Ana says:

    Apologies , bookalicious, for spoiling the book for you. I honestly thought that this was like, Mystery 101, I shouldn’t assume that just because a book has been around for so long, that people would just know the twist. I have removed the spoiler – not that it will make any difference to you now, for which I am sorry.

  8. Ana says:

    Stephanie D, good question. I think THIS book IS all about the unreliable narrator – the title, the story is all about it. It wouldn’t work without it and the big twist , well I don’t want to spoil but it is all connected.

    It IS very good.

  9. bookalicious says:

    Much better now, but I sooooo wish I could delete that from my mind, I was really truly planning to read the book soon. Well, this is one of the very few Agatha Christie books I haven’t read (it wasn’t translated to my language back when I was reading her book and now I don’t read crime anymore at all) and I was saving it for this year because it’s my hubby’s favourite and everyone’s been talking about it so I really wanted to find out by myself. I apologize for being bitchy here, but this was really a big thing, it’s like someone spoiling Harry Potter! And I honestly did not want to read that spoiler, but it was right above the picture. :( Sorry again, I don’t usually go around blogs bitching, but this just breaks my achy breaky booklovin’ heart. :( I’ll get over it though. Eventually. ;)

  10. Adrienne says:

    Sweet! I was waiting for the review (since yours is the only one I am trusting)…I have a date with B&N on the 29th! :P

  11. Oh, what an AWESOME review!! Can’t wait for this book. :)

    Kaz

  12. Tiffany M. says:

    This is an amazing review.

    If you’re into those kind of narrator’s you should definitely check out Trick of the Light by Rob Thurman. You won’t regret it. ^^

  13. I love this book. Everyone should read it as soon as it comes out. I got to read an early version last year and I can’t wait to read it again now and try to catch Micah out this time around!

    PS: Critting something with an unreliable narrator is near impossible. that’s what I learned. :D

  14. Tiah says:

    Fight Club is one of my most favorite movies eva. I loved that I thought I knew how things were going, them WHAM! I am definitely picking this book up. I have read so many predictable books lately it will be fun to read something like this.

  15. Ana says:

    Diana – I can only but imagine! It must have been so interesting though.

    Tiffany M – thank you! I will definitely look it up!

    Tiah: Liar is totally unpredictable! Let me know when you read it! : D

  16. Harry Markov says:

    This is on my reading list. :)

  17. Lenore says:

    I am reading this SOON!

    I love the book TRAP FOR CINDERELLA by Sebastien Japrisot for the unreliable narrator. I mean, she does have amnesia…but still…awesome.

    Oh and BAD MONKEYS by Matt Ruff. It doesn’t get much more unreliable than that!

  18. Kay says:

    I just got it this weekend and it’s on the top of my TBR pile right now, with a couple other. It sounds amazingly good! I love unreliable narrators (and I loved Fight Club and the Usual Suspects!) This book sounds really intriguing, and I am glad, after such a “cover controversy”, that we can now enjoy a wonderful story!

  19. Mfred says:

    Recently I read We have Always Lived in the Castle, and thought it had one of the most delicious unreliable narrators around.

    I have also been recommended the Tom Ripley books by Patricia Highsmith, although I haven’t had a chance to read them.

  20. [...] 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?" … (read the full review here) [...]

  21. ivonne says:

    i love this book, i have it and read it 2 times,

  22. Micah says:

    Lol. The heroine and I share the same first name and I am also a compulsive liar. I have a feeling I’m going to love this book…

  23. Ashley says:

    This book totally had me up all night. I usually hate unreliable narrator books but… this one changed my mind. 8)

  24. Sahana says:

    This book was one of the worst books I have ever read. I really thought this book was going to be amazing, guess I was wrong.Looks (the cover) are deceiving.

  25. Sahana says:

    If you want to read a great book, read The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Its really good. It really gives you an insight on what some people (mainly Jay Gatsby) are willing to do in order to raise up in social status.

  26. Suzi says:

    If you like unreliable narrators, you must read Wish Her Safe at Home by Stephen Benetar. It is a reissue of a 1982 novel, now a NYRB Classic. You will not be disappointed. For an older book, it is strangely modern.

  27. [...] I first heard about this book, I honestly thought it was all an elaborate prank. I am a HUGE fan of both authors (their books have made my top 10 on occasion) and the premise sounded too good to be true. [...]

  28. iesha says:

    This book is Not for minors
    rated R by the MPAA
    18 by the BBFC
    MA by the OFLC
    it is not a childrens or teens book

  29. Haley says:

    Says you this is definitly a book for teens. It teaches a life lesson. :D

  30. Anonymous says:

    cool book-it is fucking awesome. I used to hear sluts read it but whew!I love it.

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