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Review – Liar by Justine Larbalestier

by Justine Larbalestier
384 pages
Published September 29, 2009
Fiction, young adult

Micah, the main character in Liar by Justine Larbalestier, is just what the title of the book alludes to: a liar. She tells you right off the bat she’s a liar on the very first page:

My father is a liar and so am I.

But I’m not 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.

The unreliable narrator? Awesome! I love those characters. Except this one doesn’t sit quite right with me, because you have to wonder as you read, Is she finally telling the truth? Is this the truth? And I know that’s the whole point of an unreliable narrator, but I can’t elaborate without giving you spoilers.

Like I mentioned, I can’t say much without giving away major plot points, but let me point out two things.

1. At about halfway through the book, the story took a turn that I thought was…unbelievable. Now, in order for an author to pull something like that off, they have to set the story up to be that kind of story, but the author didn’t do that for this particular plot point.

2. One of my blogging friends got to meet Justine Larbalestier in person, and Justine said that even she doesn’t know what all’s true in this story. On the one hand this completely appalls me, that an author wouldn’t know her own main character. Is this hypocritical of me, considering that I loved The Lace Reader (which, if you read this guest post, you’ll see that the story wasn’t really clear to her until the end)? Perhaps. But I thought The Lace Reader was fantastically woven, whereas Liar seemed to have more holes. On the other hand, I’m completely enamored with the fact the Justine Larbalestier doesn’t always know when Micah is lying, because I asked this very question at Book Group Expo two years ago to a panel of authors, and never received a satisfactory response (whether they, as the author, always knew when their main character was telling the truth).

I guess I also got frustrated when Micah showed obvious contempt for the reader, her audience:

I wanted to see if you would buy it. And you did.

You buy everything, don’t you?

You make it too easy.

I know it goes with her character, but it really bothered me, her obvious disdain for the reader. Her haughtiness at how trusting we would be of her. I lost interest in her story at that point, as any thread of interest I had in her was gone.

There were quite a few things I didn’t like about Liar, but I love the concept of the unreliable narrator.

Rating: 79 out of 100

Other reviews:

Steph Su Reads

Bookshelves of Doom

My Friend Amy


Presenting Lenore


Fyrefly’s Book Blog

Book Addiction

Book source: This book was a gift from friends! Yay!

| Tags: , , , 18 comments »

18 Responses to “Review – Liar by Justine Larbalestier”

  1. raych ()

    Most of the hype Liar received was b/c of the cover controversy, not because of the awesome. But one forgets and one files all ‘hype’ as ‘hype’ and then when one reads it, one is expecting Surrious Business one way or the other. I would have liked Liar more if I hadn’t had expectations of…SOMETHING. Or maybe not. I totally agree with you re the mid-novel twist. I had to stop reading and tap my forehead for a second.


  2. Veens

    The concept of unreliable narrator is a bit weird for me. Well I would definitely keep on thinking, whether she is finally telling the truth.
    I will definitely want to try Lace Reader, and give this a miss.
    Yes, I remember the cover art controversy too as Raych points out.


  3. Jenny ()

    I’ve been wanting to read this one for a while but the unreliable narrator things sort of worries me… it would bother me I think so if it’s not amazingly good maybe I should stay away…


  4. Erin ()

    Hmm, I definitely enjoy unreliable narrators, but it sounds like this one would annoy me. I’m not sure how I feel about not even the author knowing what’s true… Maybe I’ll go for the Lace Reader instead!


  5. S. Krishna ()

    I totally agree with your review – normally I love an unreliable narrator. But I disliked the twist that came in the middle of the book because that type of situation in a book needs to be set up a bit. And I agree with your comment about the author – I hate the idea that she doesn’t know what’s true either! Part of the reason I like unreliable narrators so much is because I think they are really creative on the author’s part. But with the author of this book not even knowing what’s true, it takes that part away a little bit.


  6. zibilee

    I usually like unreliable narrators, but I don’t think I like the sound of this one because of the obvious contempt that the author has for the reader. If I read that scene, it probably would have pissed me off enough not to finish the book. So the author sets the reader up to be confused and a bit gullible about her main character, and then mocks them when they are? Well, no thanks. I loved this review, Trish, and I love that you tell it like it is!!


  7. bermudaonion (Kathy) ()

    I love a GOOD unreliable narrator, so this may not be the book for me either.


  8. Trisha ()

    While I love unreliable narrators, this is one I just never had a desire to pick up. It sounded like the unusualness of the narration was the only reason to read it.


  9. Alison ()

    I read and sort of reviewed Liar about a year ago, and while I was enamored of it at the time, it hasn’t really stuck with me as much as I thought it would.

    Re: the plot twist of doom, I am totally with you… but not. When I read the book and got to that plot twist, I was like, “You have got to be kidding me. I am not ready for this to be that kind of book, I have plenty of that kind sitting on my shelf if I had wanted to read one!” I continued reading, but every time that bit came up it would make me roll my eyes a little.

    But! With the passing of time and the reading of some interesting interpretations of the whole story… I think that that ridiculous plot twist actually makes a lot of sense. It makes you go, “No freaking way.” But then you think, “But she said she was telling the truth.” It’s such a difficult truth to believe, you have to think she must be lying, but what if she’s telling the truth? Maybe her pathological liar-y-ness comes from the fact that no one would believe her if she told the truth anyway. Or maybe she’s just lying. Or maybe she really is what she says she is.

    I don’t think any other big reveal at that point in the story would give you the head-confuses like that.

    It’s still weird, of course, but I think it’s just one of those things that you learn to appreciate even if you’re not madly in love with it!


  10. Sandy

    I like unreliable, but I would have a problem with this particular one because she sounds like a snotty be-otch. Just reading the passages you shared made me want to rise up and say “You are not all that, girl. I’m not as easy to fool as you think!”. Plus there was all that brouhaha over the cover. Which was unappealing.


  11. Jessica ()

    I love unreliable narrators – when done well. But it’s such a fine line. Sorry this one didn’t really work for you.


  12. Michelle

    I enjoyed this book, but have to admit I’m a girl who likes a definite ending. The ending to this book left so much up to interpretation (which isn’t necessarily a bad thing) that it made it a little less satisfying for me.


    Pippa Reply:

    Michelle that is a perfect review and exactly how i feel about the book too.


  13. Beth F ()

    I didn’t like the Lace Reader because I believe there were a couple of holes in the plot (and for several other reasons too), so if this book doesn’t hold together for you, I’d probably hate it.


  14. Kate {The Parchment Girl} ()

    I’ve never read a book with an unreliable narrator. Books like that make me bite all my fingernails to stubs. I prefer stories that give you a definite sense of resolution at the end, absolute confidence that every conclusion made is accurate and reliable.


  15. Melissa Sarno ()

    I haven’t read this book though I followed the whole cover controversy a bit. To be honest, I actually dislike unreliable narrators. Unless they are children, which doesn’t necessarily make them unreliable, sometimes the reader is just wiser than they are.
    This whole thing you discussed about an author not realizing when a character is lying— huh? How is that possible? I know writers often say that their characters sometimes take off with a story (I have found this to be true) but to not know when they’re lying? I don’t get that. That’s really some meta-crazy-stuffs. Weird.


  16. Dana Huff ()

    Interesting. I liked The Lace Reader a lot, too! And The Map of True Places. I had heard about this book before, but I forget where. Even though you didn’t like it, I have to say your review of it has me curious about it. I will consider myself duly warned, though.


  17. Anne

    As much as I didn’t care for this book I think about it a lot and I read nearly a year ago. I’m still wondering if she is telling the truth at the end of it. Think how hard it is to keep track of one lie, Larbalestier kept track of many lies and made them all believable. In a lot of ways this book is amazing.


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