Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen (translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston)
Published by Pushkin Press, 2019 (first published in 2017)
My rating: ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
At once a searing social commentary and a gripping page-turner, Liar explores the ease with which our words can take on a life of their own, and our moral responsibility to honour the truth. 17-year-old Nofar feels lonely and directionless. Following an intense altercation, a B-list celebrity is falsely accused of attempted sexual assault against her. Nofar, blided by the attention, allows the lie to take root. A media scandal ensues and events quickly spiral beyond her control. As Nofar becomes the poster girl for ‘brave women’, the police plan to make an example of the unlikable victim of her lies, to serve as a warning to any potential rapists. But the more she is drawn into her own lies, the greater her struggle to finally tell the truth.
The strength of this story is in its characters. Each one is complex and flawed in their own ways, and this makes them all the more believable. Gundar-Goshen forces us to ask powerful moral questions, ensuring that no situation is simply black or white. Should we side with the sympathetic young girl who stands to inspire victims and deter criminals by convicting someone who is cruel and egotistical, or should we always stand on the side of justice? I felt the author was able to present her characters and their perspectives without bias or judgement, allowing the reader to interpret things in their own ways. On that note, I think this would make a fantastic book club pick, sure to invite heated debate.
As the lies build up and more people begin to wheedle out the truth, the book explores the snowball effect that can see one lie give birth to a whole host of others, with people choosing to keep or expose secrets for all sorts of reasons; be it to protect those they love, or to further their own selfish desires. Along this vein, there’s a fantastic thread throughout concerning sisterhood, loyalty, and jealousy that I thoroughly enjoyed watching play out.
The significance of this book’s publication in the era of the #MeToo movement also cannot be underestimated. Not once did I feel Gundar-Goshen was questioning the validity and seriousness of sexual assault accusations, but she delivers a powerful reminder that there are always those who will abuse the system, deliberately or otherwise. It’s an upsetting and ugly truth, but one she forces us to confront.
Gundar-Goshen’s prose is stunning, and the translation into English has been handled beautifully. I found myself rereading whole passages just to soak in the fantastic flow of words, but it’s in the small moments that her writing really shines. From gorgeous turns of phrase (“Even broken glass can glitter like a diamond if the sun treats it kindly”), to evocative imagery (“Like a beating heart, the bus stop filled up and emptied out and filled up and emptied out”), and perceptive observations (“Sometimes fiction is written in the ink of truth”), I was consistently impressed.
There was only one slight blip that held me back from a full five-star rating. Around two thirds into the book, we are introduced to a new character; an elderly woman who essentially assumes her deceased friend’s identity. Pretending to be a holocaust survivor, she travels to concentration camps, giving talks to children about the horrors of the past. Her subplot serves to enhance the idea that liars come in many unexpected forms, and that the motivation and justification for certain lies can be incredibly varied and complex. That said, her involvement in the main narrative was too fleeting and convenient; her introduction coming too late for her to feel properly woven into the bigger picture. Given how invested I was in Nofar’s story, I found the sudden perspective switch a little jarring.
That said, I loved every moment I spent with this book. The heady atmosphere and genuine stress-inducing tension were palpable. It was as thrilling as it was thought-provoking; as readable as it was intelligent. I suspect this is one that will really stay with me, and I can’t wait to read more of Gundar-Goshen’s work.
You can pick up a copy of Liar from Book Depository by clicking here.