Imagine a world without liars. Imagine a world without novelists. OK, I know that we all know that novelists are, most of the time, describing things that never actually happened, but that’s what we pay them for. Lying is deeply embedded in the human psyche. Think of all the memorable quotes:
“If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.”
“History is a set of lies agreed upon.”
“The visionary lies to himself, the liar only to others.”
“The worst part about being lied to is knowing you weren’t worth the truth”
“There’s only two people in your life you should lie to… the police and your girlfriend.”
Also Sprach, in no particular order (put the name to the quote for a bit of fun, but no prizes, sadly) Napoleon, Jack Nicholson, Hitler, Sartre, and Nietzsche. In this brilliant new novel by Simon Lelic we have, in theatrical terms, an intense two-hander between Susanna (a counsellor) and Adam (a troubled young man). Just a couple of problems here, though. First, neither person is exactly who they claim to be and, second, Adam has abducted Susanna’s daughter Emily and, for reasons which emerge as this extraordinary dialogue develops, wants her dead.
This is one of those books which reviewers dread. Not because of the quality of the writing and not because the pages drag. The problem is that the plot is so fiendish and so beautifully designed to suck the reader into a series of emotional quicksands, that any commentary has to be very carefully judged so that it gives nothing away.
What I can say is that Susanna lives alone with her daughter in a house where there are secret drawers, hidden bundles of photographs and memories which are witnesses to Susanna’s past. A past that she hopes she has left behind, just as her visions of the dead have receded so that they are now merely mental shadows. You will learn that Adam is connected to Susanna. Connected by memory, circumstance – and by something much, much more powerful.
The Liar’s Room (interesting placing of the possessive apostrophe) starts with a tiny giveaway, but then proceeds at a leisurely pace before a real sense of menace kicks in. I am not sure if ‘chromatologist’ is a real word, but I think anyone who studies the science of colour would agree that there are places in this novel where the mood goes beyond black into a place where the emotional darkness is so intense that we have no words to describe it.
Simon Lelic (right) is a writer who views the human condition with what some might term a jaundiced eye, as witnessed in his previous novel, The House – follow the link to read my review. He is all too aware of our weakness, our fallibility, and the lengths we will go to in order to preserve our fragile sense of normality. He doesn’t judge, however. He simply reports. This excellent book shows just how shrewd, how perceptive and how entertaining – in a swirling and disturbing sense – his writing is. The Liar’s Room is published by Viking/Penguin Random House and is out now.