Rebecca's Reviews > The Liar

The Liar by Stephen Fry
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's review
Aug 28, 2009

it was ok
Recommended for: Stephen Fry fans
Read in August, 2009

In my reading experience, an author's first novel tends to be a very thinly-veiled fictionalization of their own life, usually including awkward meditations on all the resentments and obsessions of their life up to that point and other things that the outside world was better off not knowing. The parts that do happen to be genuinely created from scratch tend to be campy and flat and usually stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the novel. The Liar, Stephen Fry's first novel, is no exception to this general rule.

This book is 75% Fry's autobiography and 25% international espionage. The plot alternates clumsily between the mundane life of Adrian, a homosexual guy growing up in the 1970s in Britain (where Adrian = Stephen Fry), and the exciting and confusing world of Austrian espionage. Why Austria, you may ask? Beats me. Maybe Fry had recently taken a trip to Austria when he wrote the book, and wanted to include a bunch of obscure street names and German words in his story. I still don't understand this section of the book, but I don't think I'm missing much. I recognize that this section, and the book as a whole, was supposed to be funny, but it left me cold.

In any event, Fry does a good job of telling the autobiographical parts of the book in an engaging way, which probably isn't as easy a task as it sounds. However, the "serious"/made-up portion of the book is too melodramatic, confusing, and irrelevant to the vast majority of the story, so those parts were all really frustrating to sit through. The multiple references to cricket and the descriptions of cricket games could have been cut, too - since cricket had no bearing on the plot, the extended references just seemed like gratuitous fandom on his part (he's a huge cricket fan, apparently). Fry is very good at being funny and writing about human relationships (at least between men - I guess that's to be expected from a gay author), but he's awful at writing about action or mystery in an interesting or compelling - or even comprehensible - way. He's better off sticking to the micro of everyday life rather than large-scale machinations like politics or government or really anything outside of British boarding school life.

The only context in which I'd recommend this book is if you're a huge Stephen Fry fan and you want to learn more about his life or see what he's like as a writer. But it's not really a book that can stand on its own merits.

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