Book reviews, Culture

“All men are liars” by Alberto Manguel

Who killed Alejandro Bevilacqua? This is the question that Jean-Luc Terradillos, the French journalist in this novel, aims to answer in collecting the fictional accounts of friends, lovers and acquaintances of the mysteriously murdered Argentinean author.

Kim Evans

“All Men Are Liars” is the fourth novel to be released by Argentine-Canadian writer Alberto Manguel, who is perhaps more famous for his non-literary work on the physical act and enjoyment of reading, as seen in his books “A History of Reading” and “A Reader on Reading”.

He was also fortuitous enough as a teenager to read aloud to the elderly Jorge Luis Borges, who was gradually losing his sight in his old age, and asked for the help of the young Manguel.

Echoes of Borges’s style and themes can be found in “All Men Are Liars”; its labyrinthine plot and intertwining of the opposing narrative voices, echo the symbolic mazes so frequently seen in Borges’ work.

The story centres on the mysterious death of Alejandro Bevilacqua, an Argentinian immigrant living in Madrid, who just before his death has gained fame for his debut novel “In Praise of Lying”, hailed as a masterpiece.

As to how he died, and what led to his death, must be discovered through the accounts of those who knew him, his friends, lovers and enemies, one being Alberto Manguel himself.

These retellings of Bevilacqua’s story describe his growing up in Buenos Aires and mysterious imprisonment there; he is then inexplicably exiled to Madrid and becomes famous as the author of the latest Latin American masterpiece, before he is killed in strange circumstances.

One of the strengths of this book is the juxtaposition between the two locations in the novel, that of old Buenos Aires, deteriorating under the turmoil caused by Argentina’s Dirty War of the Seventies, set against modern Madrid, enjoying its recent freedom from the rule of Franco and seemingly full of promise for the South American immigrants.

These contrasts between the ‘new’ and the ‘old’ world bring to mind other stories written by Latin Americans touching on the alienation felt by expatriates in Europe, most strongly in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s collection of short stories, “Strange Pilgrims”, where through a number of short stories he explores the idea of displacement and isolation of those living in a land foreign to them.

But the most powerful part of the novel is sifting between what is the truth and lies of each of the narrator’ memories, and the subjectivity of the nature of experience.

The nature of lying is something central to the novel, being present both in the actual title, and in the fictional title of Bevilacqua’s masterpiece, “In Praise of Lying”.

It is interesting to address this through the form of fiction, since all fiction is essentially a lie, writing that is convincing the reader that something that never happened did happen, but within this a deeper truth can often be found.

Perhaps similarly Manguel contrasts this with his conflicting narrators. Although events may not have happened exactly how they say, in the final moments they come together, as the journalist Terradillos says in the final chapter, when he compares them to a Tangram puzzle, to create a truer image of the strange and melancholic life of Alejandro Bevilacqua.

“All Men Are Liars” is a deceptively easy read, the diversity and liveliness of each of the different narrators are so enjoyable to read, and the mystery of Bevilacqua’s life so intriguing, that sooner than wanted you come to the end.

Translated by Miranda France and published in English in 2010, Manguel’s most recent novel seems to be one that has unfairly slipped under the radar of most, but deserves many more readers to make up their own minds on what really happened to Alejandro Bevilacqua.

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