Reading challenge, continued

The fifth novel in my 2010 reading challenge was Justine Larbalestier’s Liar. I find I’m still thinking about this one–anyone want to discuss it?

I’ll keep the book’s big reveal out of this post, but spoilers are welcome in comments. The rest of this post does have information about the structure and nature of the book, though, so if you haven’t read it yet you might want to stop anyway, depending how strongly you like to avoid being spoiled.

I like unreliable narrators, so I admired what this book was aiming for: the protagonist, being a pathological liar, spins lies left and right while telling her story, leaving the reader wondering which things she says can be believed–even when she says, no, that last thing I told you was a lie, but here’s the real truth. The story is carefully enough constructed that almost anything she says could be true–or not–and so at the end the reader is left with multiple possibilities as to what really happened. I really liked that, too. Some readers have complained about not knowing what “really” happened at the end, but I wanted that uncertainty, and welcomed it.

Yet I was still felt unsatisfied at the end. I think what I was waiting for was that shivery moment when I realized, oh, wait, that’s not really it after all, this other thing I wasn’t quite expecting (yet somehow was) is what really happened. Followed by that also-shivery uncertainty of, Or did it? as I continue examining the story from different angles.

And as a reader I never quite got that. I saw the cleverness with which the different possible stories had been woven together, and admired it–but I never had that unsettling feeling of the ground shifting beneath my feet that I’d been, without realizing it, waiting for the entire book. I knew the protagonist was a liar, so I knew everything was possible from the start, and in the end, I was pretty much in the same place.

But I suspect this is a book that, more than most, reader reaction varies hugely, because the things that give readers that shivery ground-shifting feeling are so highly individual.

So I’m curious how other readers reacted. I think it’s a book that invites discussion, actually.

I’d also love to see some discussion, once Adam Rex’s Fat Vampire comes out this July, of how those two books compare in terms of their unreliable narrators and uncertain endings–achieved in different ways with different effects in each book, yet with the common ground of the reader not being entirely sure what “really” happened in the end.

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