BookBrowse Reviews The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

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The Liar

by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen X
The Liar by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen
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     Not Yet Rated
  • First Published:
    Sep 2019, 288 pages
    Paperback:
    Aug 2020, 288 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Rachel Hullett
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A 17-year-old girl accuses a local celebrity of a crime he didn't commit in this intelligent, unsettling coming-of-age novel about truth and consequences.

The Liar is a book that will make its readers uncomfortable by design; set in modern-day Israel, it follows a 17-year-old girl, Nofar, who is unremarkable in every way until one day she decides to tell a terrible lie, with far-reaching consequences. At her summer job at an ice cream parlor she has an unpleasant encounter with a local celebrity who yells at her and insults her appearance—things then escalate when Nofar falsely accuses him of attempted rape.

It's a deeply unsettling premise, and a difficult one to pull off. How does an author tell a story about a false accusation without trivializing the reality of sexual assault? Ayelet Gundar-Goshen rises to the challenge. Nofar is not a victim, and her actions are not written to be excused or condoned. And yet, Gundar-Goshen creates a multifaceted, compelling character, whose behavior is explored and contextualized by the reality of living as an ordinary teenage girl in a society that places value on desirability above all else.

The Liar works, despite its difficult, arguably antifeminist premise, because Gundar-Goshen sheds light on a dark part of human nature—people lie, and sometimes it's only for something as inconsequential as attention—while still reminding the reader that Nofar is a young, impressionable, imperfect girl. As she navigates the maelstrom of media attention, Nofar is still dealing with high school, first love, sibling rivalry and body image. It's darker and more cynical than your average coming-of-age story, and rather lacking in a moral (we all know that Nofar was wrong to lie, so Gundar-Goshen mercifully does not belabor that point), but the intersection between Nofar's young adulthood and the adult consequences of her accusation is what makes this story so unforgettable.

Where Gundar-Goshen overstretches her ambition is in a disparate storyline involving an older woman, Raymonde, posing as a Holocaust survivor. When her friend Rivka dies, Raymonde, overcome with grief and bearing a startling physical resemblance to her friend, takes Rivka's place as a volunteer on a school trip to Auschwitz (which is attended by Nofar). Raymonde's story, like Nofar's, is uncomfortable, horrifying, and oddly moving at times, and it probably would have made a brilliant standalone short story. But as one of The Liar's many narrative threads, it never fully comes together; despite the obvious parallels between the lies that the two characters tell, it's too disjointed from the rest of the novel to make an impact.

Translated from the Hebrew by Sondra Silverston, the writing itself is rather dynamic and peppered with similes on just about every page; some help to beautifully craft a sense of character: "She grew up to be a timid, withdrawn young girl who lived in the world as if she were an uninvited guest at a party." Others can be overwrought: "The city slept like a large woman sprawled on her back, the darkness kind to her, concealing her wrinkles. A large, old city is like a large, old woman—easy to love in the dark, difficult in the light." But ultimately the lively and slightly wry prose suits the story; Gundar-Goshen deftly avoids melodrama while still creating a foreboding tone that keeps the reader turning pages as Nofar's lie begins to catch up with her.

Reviewed by Rachel Hullett

This review was originally published in The BookBrowse Review in October 2019, and has been updated for the August 2020 edition. Click here to go to this issue.

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