Martine's Reviews > The Liar

The Liar by Stephen Fry
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's review
Mar 01, 2008

really liked it
bookshelves: british, favourites, glbt, humour, modern-fiction
Recommended for: Anglophiles and lovers of British humour

Stephen Fry ranks among my favourite persons on earth. There's something about his terribly English combination of wit, erudition and a dirty mind that never fails to delight me, and it shines brightly in The Liar, the first of the four novels he has published so far. An irreverent and intelligent take on such British institutions as the public-school novel, the Cambridge novel and the spy novel, it is best appreciated by people who have an affinity for such things, but really, anyone with a taste for British humour should enjoy it. It's basically a late-twentieth-century P.G. Wodehouse update with some smut thrown in for good measure, and if that doesn't appeal to you, you're not a proper Anglophile.

A non-linear and somewhat uneven debut novel, The Liar tells the story of Adrian Healey, an impossibly smug, clever and decadent teenage Oscar Wilde wannabe who lives 'by pastiche and pretence', in Fry's words. Adrian is an inveterate liar, which probably sounds bad but isn't, as the lies he comes up with are so outrageous they're actually quite hilarious. The novel follows Adrian wisecracking and scheming his way first through public school (where he develops an obsessive crush on a class-mate) and then through Cambridge, where, among other things, he forges a Dickens manuscript, strikes up a friendship with a very colourful professor (the brilliant Donald Trefusis) and gets involved in an espionage story of sorts. The latter sub-plot is a bit dodgy, but the rest of the book is superb -- a delightful mix of great characters (someone introduce me to a real-life Adrian and Trefusis, please), brilliant dialogue, dexterous verbal games, highbrow literary references, filthy humour, outrageous gayness and, yes, some mystery, too. It's bold, it's imaginative, it's laugh-out-loud funny and has Stephen Fry written all over it, and should be a must-read title for anyone who likes British humour.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
January 1, 1994 – Finished Reading
March 1, 2008 – Shelved
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: british
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: favourites
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: glbt
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: humour
March 1, 2008 – Shelved as: modern-fiction

Comments (showing 1-4 of 4) (4 new)

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Martine I've read it. It's good, but I prefer his fiction. :-)

Travis I love Stephen, but felt disappointed in 'Lair'. Some clever stuff, but it really doesn't work overall.
The hero says lots of clever things, but is basically unlikable.

Really liked 'Moab is my wash pot', though I still don't understand the title.

Martine See, I like Adrian. He's devious as hell, but I like him. And that, I think, changes one's whole perception of the book.

That said, I agree the book could have been better. It has brilliant parts but does seem rather unstructured. Fry has definitely matured as a writer since then, though none of his other books are as funny as The Liar, I think.

As for the title of the autobiography, I think it's something to do with cleansing and purification. Making a clean breast of things, so to speak. I agree it could have been made clearer in the book.

Travis That's a big part of it. How you see Adrian changes the book.
Plus, I think you have to hear Stephen speak to get the most out of his stuff. His voice and way of speaking makes everything 100% wittier, funnier and more insightful.
There are several people like that, where I need to hear them say stuff to enjoy it more. On paper it can be hit or miss.

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