Review: All Men Are Liars, by Alberto Manguel

All Men Are Liars
by Alberto Manguel
Riverhead Books
June 5, 2012
206 pgs
"Lying: that is the great theme of South American literature," says Andrea, the only female narrator in Alberto Manguel's complex novel All Men Are Liars, out this week from Riverhead Books.

Hers is also the only narrative that can be trusted, for her perspective is entirely prejudiced by her own pride and does not allow for any other potentialities. All the other contributors are most certainly lying in one way or another; in some cases it is because they were lied to themselves and, in all cases, it is because they are of the literary persuasion.

Yes, all men are liars, and all writers are liars, too.

The story, told initially from four different perspectives, is that of an Argentinian expatriate living in Madrid, a writer by the name of Alejandro Bevilacqua. Bevilacqua comes to Spain straight from an Argentinian prison. His small literary reputation proceeds him and he his scooped up by Andrea who seeks to passionately cultivate his talents. 

While collecting his laundry for washing, Andrea comes across a handwritten masterpiece in Bevilacqua's bag titled In Praise of Lying and, believing that her beau has constructed a masterpiece, she goes about having the novel published in secret which, as it turns out, is the first in the chain of events that leads to Bevilacqua's apparent suicide. He is surrounded by a number of other expats, one of whom is "Alberto Manguel," an incarnation of our author positioned to blur the lines between fact and fiction for the reader, and off of whose balcony Bevilacqua found his end.

At least, that is the truth that Andrea tells; the other perspectives (that of "Manguel;" of "El Chancho," who was Bevilacqua's cellmate in Argentina; and of Gorostiza, who knows Bevilacqua casually in Spain, but whose real place in the novel is not comprehended until his narrative) provide the other pieces to the Bevilacqua puzzle, all being sent to a French journalist who is trying in vain to piece together the real story of the author's tragic life. 

But these pieces are swollen with lies and touted self-worth and, therefore, do not quite fit together; the journalist, Jean-Luc Teradillos, is forced to conclude (in what is the final narrative of the novel) that no story, not even his own, may ever be told in full.

Of course, only the reader might really decide what to believe, and what is true and what might be a lie. It's a boon to a reader's imagination to be gifted that kind of power, and that's the generosity of Manguel's novel: he provides all the perspectives, you make the judgement call. But, in doing so, you're forced to question the application of literary perspective on actual life: surely, you can establish for yourself what the truth in your own life is; you know just what your life is or has been, and you know just how you'll be remembered when you're gone...or do you?


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