No two persons ever read the same book. --Edmund Wilson

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

2011/13: The Liar -- Stephen Fry

"You must face the fact that many members of staff are beginning to lose their patience. Perhaps you feel that they don't understand you?"
"I think the problem is that they do understand me, sir."
"Yes. You see that is exactly the kind of remark that is guaranteed to put certain masters' backs up, isn't it? Sophistication is not an admired quality. Not only at school. Nobody likes it anywhere. In England at any rate." (p.32-3)
  1. The Liar follows Adrian Healey, a decorative young man who is far too clever for his own good, through public school ("this was 1973 and girls had not yet been invented" (p.13)) to London streetlife and thence to the University of Cambridge, where he encounters the redoubtable Professor Trefusis and becomes involved in international espionage.
  2. Or not.
  3. "Not one word of the following is true." That's the opening sentence of the book. Caveat emptor.
  4. Adrian is an accomplished liar, fancies himself as a wit in the Wilde mode -- not the only sphere in which he emulates Wilde -- and has something of a problem with authority figures.
  5. Professor Trefusis (familiar from other works in Fry's oeuvre) is one of the few who appreciates Adrian's creativity, duplicity and amorality. Adrian is, in fact, exactly the kind of chap who can help Trefusis pull off a particular coup.
  6. Adrian isn't wholly content to exist in a meaningless void. There's a rich vein of self-disgust: "he was one of a long line of mimsy and embittered middle-class sensitives who disguised their feeble and decadent lust as something spiritual and Socratic." (p. 104) In some ways he seems as emotionally blank as he's morally void, failing to connect, never loyal: then he'll reveal a fleeting glimpse of bleak romanticism.
  7. The Liar isn't a linear novel: even if the reader can keep track of what's true and what's not, working out the sequence of events can be a challenge. However, pretty much everything knits up neatly at the end, albeit perhaps at the expense of (a small portion of) Adrian's pride.
  8. There are some extremely funny one-liners and some scenes where the humour, excessive or dark, verges on tastelessness.
  9. Adrian is not a likeable chap. However, he's a fascinating protagonist, who'll go to considerable lengths to plaster a camp and flamboyant mask over the Existential Void within. I'm not quite sure whether this counts as a waste of talent or its epitome.
  10. Hard to say just how much of The Liar is autobiographical: certainly some scenes ring with heartfelt bitterness. Then again, this was Fry's first novel (published in 1991) and first novels are always fair game for the 'autobiography' approach. Fry's later novels indicate considerable range: maybe The Liar's closest to the bone, or maybe it's just an intense debut.

No comments:

Post a Comment