on 24 November 2001
Having thoroughly enjoyed Stephen Fry's autobiography, "Moab is my Washpot", I decided to read "The Liar", his first novel, which was written before "Moab". I'm glad I read the books in that order, as many of the events in "The Liar" are taken from Fry's own public school experiences. I had a clearer understanding of situations and characters in "The Liar" because they identified strongly with events that had taken place in Fry's life. I found this book very funny, 100% due to the author's unimitable, very wry and witty "public school" style of writing. His descriptions of events and types of people are so 'spot-on', you can't help but laugh and think how accurate it all is. Great stuff! If this is Stephen Fry, then I'm hooked!
on 1 July 2007
When John Prescott surfaced on the political scene as Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Heseltine commented on his lack of social grace saying, "Language is not his first language." The same cannot be said of Stephen Fry. He demonstrates a sculptor's skill in carving each sentence delicately.
Delightfully easy to read and entertaining, the story mixes fiction with fact as a young Adrian Healey (presumably Stephen's alter ego) stumbles through life as a Cambridge undergraduate. Not content with simply reading for his degree in the conventional sense, Adrian attempts to demonstrate his literary brilliance by forging an early work from Charles Dickens. His deceit fools many a Cambridge Don and Adrian's prank becomes the substance of legend.
The book provides a frank and often shocking look into university life, covering fagging, homosexuality, suicide and Piccadilly rent boys. Designed more to entertain than to shock, the book will appeal to fans of Fry, those wishing to know more about university life in early 1970's England, and all who enjoy a riotous good read.
on 12 August 2016
Excellent. Like all good stories the ending is not what you might have imagined as you read the book.
All good and enjoyable stories should have a twist in the tail (tale) where all your pre- and mis- conceptions fall in tatters at your feet. The Liar, as is to be expected, has not just one twist in the tail, it has several! I did feel that I was being rushed towards the end and I think, on reflection, that I would have liked there to have been just one twist and it to have come upon me more rapidly, rather than all the theories I had devised, unravelling little by little.
Like all good books I shall re-read this several times before putting it aside for a year or two to be re-enjoyed when I have mostly forgotten the sub-plots and can read it as if it were the first time. I always find Stephen's writing refreshing since I know it will be correctly punctuated and grammatically correct, unlike some books, especially by authors of a particular nationality, where I have constantly to re-read a sentence, a phrase, a paragraph, even several pages because poor writing or poor punctuation has confused me.
on 22 October 2008
I should preface this by saying 'I love Stephen Fry.' Despite being a heterosexual male, I would quite happily marry him just so I could enjoy a lifetime of his mild manners and witty repartees.
This being said, since I discovered Amazon's 'review' function I've tried to dissect books as objectively as possible. Therefore, I have to confess that The Liar was slightly disappointing for me.
Don't get me wrong: It's fantastically written. Fry's mastery of the language is quite simply art in motion, and the insight the work provides into the man himself is fascinating.
However... it's not very good, really.
I'm all for unconventional plot devices and disregarding standard narrative flow, but Fry's attempts at a disjointed style are immensely unsatisfying. Jumping between past and present interrupts the characters' natural development, and makes the story hard to follow. It also makes it hard to keep track of the sheer number of characters that Fry throws in.
Another issue I have is that Fry doesn't utilise his protaganist's compulsive lying tendencies enough. The parts where the character is lying - and is revealed to be as such at the end - are removed from the plot, so when his falsehoods are later revealed it is a massive anti-climax, as they have no bearing on what has actually occured during the novel.
Overall, I feel that this is a weak first attempt. It is certainly worth reading, but Fry has written far superior works to this. Therefore, I can't really recommend it, but will instead advise purchasing 'Moab is my Washpot', which is in essence a more impressive version of this. It also has the advantage of being a true autobiography, instead of vaguely wielding the autobiographical elements that make The Liar appealing. Or, if you'd rather read Fry's best fictional work, go for The Hippopotamus: although a strong stomach is required to get through it.
on 8 August 2003
I loved The Liar when I read it a few years ago. I remember it slipped into literary legend for me. But that did not prepare me for the sheer magnificence of the unabridged audio version of the book. It combines arguably Fry's best literary work to date with his brilliance as a narrator that won him the Talkie Award for reading Harry Potter. To hear the main character, Adrian, brought to life is a bowel-shattering joy to behold. Add Fry's flair for comic delivery and you are are left with something every person with a brain and a fraction of sliver of particle of iota of a smidgen of a mere suggestion of a sense of humour should own. It was great. I loved it. Buy it now.
on 24 March 2001
Stephen Fry's first novel is absolutely brilliant and there are laughs and surprises on virtually every page. The title character contains more of a hint of the author himself particularly if you have read Fry's autobiography. It will keep you guessing throughout and I defy anyone who does not laugh out loud at least twenty times while reading it. As well as being funny it is also delicately touching; in short it is amazing
on 26 July 2012
The good parts are very good. But the bad parts are really rather horrid. The reader should persevere. Most of the disagreeable bits are early in the book. As I read it on Kindle I can tell you that by 35% I was tempted to give up, but by about 45% I was beginning to enjoy it, and it got better and better from then on.
Mr Fry's sense of humour (at least in the early stages of this novel) is that of a particularly disgusting adolescent schoolboy. The revolting descriptions of mutual masturbation etc will no doubt appeal to some, but most will find them a big turn off. One also fears, until about half way through, that we are expected to admire the grossly superficial "intelligence" of the hero. But it really is worth ploughing on. Even the humour improves (rather dramatically).
My guess is that Mr Fry wrote the first third of the book when he was about sixteen (and probably a rather nasty youth). He then put it aside for ten or so years. I think it was a mistake, when he resumed, that he didn't re-write what he had already written. If he had done so, this could have been a minor classic. As it is, the novel will be read for a few years (because its author is a "celebrity") but will then be forgotten.
The Liar is the first novel that Stephen Fry wrote and the second of his novels that I have read. Over the last 15 or 20 years he has of course become familiar from television as a comedian and comedy actor, as large as Oscar Wilde and with a flippant urbane wit nearly to match.
A born entertainer, one would say, full of zest for and enjoyment of what he does, and a bit of a toff with it. However when I first read his The Stars' Tennis Balls I sensed something else entirely. My reaction was `This man is seriously not right', and it came to me as no surprise recently when he let out that he is a manic depressive. You can already sense the problem in The Liar. It is largely autobiographical obviously, and just as certainly embellished too, I should say. The hero and the author are carried along on a torrent of their own phenomenal articulacy and imagination. Experiences and ordeals that would have had most of us in permanent psychiatric care seem to leave no lasting mark so far as this narrative is concerned, but the underlying nihilism is unmistakable as well. Fry's genius is a gift of the gods, but like most gifts of the gods it comes with a heavy burden attached. When the effervescence boils down, as it sometimes must, the vessel is empty. The style is not just the man, the style is the man's whole world.
The most elite English education is the scaffolding that supports Fry and his hero. Their patois is a joy to listen to, and the author's satirical ear is acute. He has not only the idiom of the English public school to perfection, but also the jargon of Cambridge professors arguing as well as the strange lingo in which examination questions are framed. None of these are targets for Fry in any sense implying hostility. He is a liberal, not a revolutionary, and he laughs because otherwise he might weep. All the same, it would be leaving an utterly false impression to suggest that there is any tone of gloom to this book. It's funny, sometimes hilariously funny, and it is damnably ingenious. I will go further - there is a real feeling of kindness about Fry, and cruelty is absent altogether. This book involves people being murdered, but the sense is no more gory than in Agatha Christie, and the Christie-style denouement with the master-mind explaining the intricacies of what has happened is clever beyond anything Christie could do.
Is he perhaps too clever by half? Not for me, but very likely for his own good. He remains an entertainer of genius, his heart is obviously in it, and I feel it's a good heart too. This is what he does because this is what he's good at, and I have not read a book that entertained me quite so much for quite a long time. Put your Family Values in a jar with the lid firmly on, of course, when you read Fry.
on 18 June 2002
The story follows Adrian Healy, a compulsive liar "with the highest score ever recorded in the scholarship exams" from public school through to adulthood. One of the features of the narrative is that you are never sure whether you are reading what really happened, or one of Adrian's lies. Luckily, this doesn't matter in the slightest as both fantasy and reality are equally engaging.
This goes on my list of the ten most enjoyable books I have ever read. It has a cracking plot, deliciously erudite and witty dialogue, and involving characterisation. Be warned, however, that there is an enormous amount of 'perverted' sex and 'bad' language, so it is not for the prudish.
In a well-crafted story, the threads are carefully laid out as the chapters go by, and the reader wonders how on earth they can be drawn together. At the climax of the book, the author deftly ties in one after another, and looking back from the viewpoint at the end of the book, the reader can see how each one had its necessary place in the complete tapestry and mutters, sotto voce, "Of course! How could it have been otherwise?"
This is a less well-crafted story, in my opinion. The threads are laid out - each charming and tantalising - and then in the last two chapters, a handful of the most promising are hastily tangled together, with a couple of new ones thrown in for good measure. And at the end, I was left muttering, "Oh. Is that it, then?"
That's not to say that the writing isn't of a high quality. Stephen Fry is a polymath and a genius - as would have been known by any followers of the now ancient "Fry and Laurie", even before the advent of QI. His writing reflects his deep wells of knowledge, and does an excellent job of capturing the flavour of a particular strand of public school/Cambridge character. I blush as I read back my own lines written in response to his book. And though I come from a very different position from Fry philosophically, he is somebody I like and respect.
I wasn't particularly shocked by the explicit language and sexual references, though I suspect the blatant advertising of gay sexuality by a public figure may well be part of the reason for the book's widespread critical approval - after all, who within the media would want to appear to react against such a book?
But despite the 4-5 star writing, my frustration with the plot left me disappointed. The book is fine as a comic novel (which to be fair may have been all that was intended) but came close, and then fell short, of being much more.