Saturday, July 18, 1998

The Liar

by Stephen Fry

Fry is a very funny comic actor, in Blackadder and the TV version of Bertie & Jeeves, among others.  This debut novel concerns a young lad at a prep school, who later (or is he lying?) becomes a street prostitute and then, under the tutelage of his supremely arch and worldly mentor at Cambridge, becomes involved in an international espionage drama, which turns out to be not at all what it seems – more than once.

Although Fry writes some sharp and funny dialogue, this book never really decides what it’s supposed to be: the coming of age story of an uncertain gay boy?  A bittersweet commentary on street life?  The morality tale of a too-bright student who learns that he can fake his way though life without effort?  Or a tongue in cheek ripping spy yarn?  It’s all of these things and, of course, none of them fully, and so the book is highly dissatisfying to me.  The book won great acclaim from all corners, but I have a feeling that if Fry hadn’t already been famous it wouldn’t have been quite so celebrated.

two stars