I have enjoyed Alberto Manguel's book about reading for many years now (A History of Reading,A Reader on Reading,The Library at Night and others). It was with some trepidation that I came to my first work of fiction by Manguel - would he be able to create fiction as well as he critiques it? I am pleased to say that All Men are Liars did not disappoint.
In All Men Are Liars, a journalist, Terradillos, is investigating the life of the Argentinian writer, Alejandro Bevilacqua who seems to have jumped off the balcony of his apartment in Madrid. Terradillos interviews four people, their accounts of the events leading up to Bevilacqua's death being compiled into this book with its bluntly stated premise in the title - all men are liars. But are they? Is one account true, or more true than the others? Or are they all incorrect, but in different ways? It is up to the reader to find out, for even Terradillos, who has his say in the last chapter may or may not be able to finally solve this conundrum.
The four accounts build up to make a fascinating picture in themselves. The author himself is the first interviewee - I quite enjoy the concept of authors appearing in their own books! After all, Manguel is a noted Argintinian writer so he would have known Bevilacqua well. Manguel speaks of Bevilacqua's sincerity and explains that after Bevilacqua's death he could no longer live in Madrid and moved to Poitiers to get away from the "ghost" of Alejandro Bevilacqua.
It all sounds so plausible. Manguel's account has a ring of truth, and the reader easily falls into believing it to be accurate. But the second interviewee casts a heavy weight of doubt on Manguel's story - "Whatever he told you about Alejandro Bevilacqua, I'll bet my right arm it's wrong". At this stage I began writing down page references which contradicted Manguel's story. This book is a puzzle and you need to keep cross checking to find the flaws in the four accounts of Bevilacqua's life and death. By the end of the book we have gained a marvellous picture of the literary circle in Madrid of which Bevilacqua was a part, but not one of its members is wholly reliable and perhaps they all have reasons for wanting to twist things their own way.
By the end of the book I think I had drawn my own conclusions about how and why Bevilacqua met his death. But certainty is a difficult thing in a case like this - what would a jury member decide - perhaps we are confronted with the age-old question, "What is Truth?".
"Frankly, I'm the last person you should be asking about Alejandro Bevilacqua."
This is the opening line of All Men Are Liars and it is spoken by the author, Alberto Manguel to the journalist Terradillos who is investigating a mysterious event that happened thirty years earlier. The eminent writer Bevilacqua fell - or was pushed - to his death from the balcony of Alberto Manguel's Madrid apartment. In his search for the truth, Terradillos interviews key figures from Bevilacqua's past, the first being the author himself. So far, so intriguing. As the other stories unfold, whose are we to believe? Or do we believe anyone if all people are liars?
To get the most out of this novel, it would have been useful to have had more background knowledge of Argentinian politics in the 70s and the story does take a while to get into. But perseverance pays dividends. This is an unusual and clever if challenging book. There is a line which will haunt all those readers who also write: "Every author discovers himself through his adverbs." Scarily good, no?
Although there are elements of the prose which work well, this novel lacks enough suspense and context to keep the reader engaged.
The mystery of the book is what happened to Alejandro Bevilacqua, whom the reader does not meet, or even hear from in the story, but instead has to piece together the accounts of five people as to what exactly happened.
There simply is not enough background, the only focus is the fate of Bevilacqua, but I'm afraid I found this work is lacking in enough of anything for me to care what happens by the end.