Monday, June 1, 2015

A 21st century Tom Ripley

The Truth and Other Lies

by Sascha Arango

Publisher: Atria Books

Pub. Date: June 23, 2015

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

“The liars among us will know that every lie must contain a certain amount of truth if it's to be convincing. A dash of truth is often enough, but it's indispensable, like the olive in the martini.”

Henry Hayden is a bestselling author but he did not write any of his novels. His wife Martha did and she is fine with her husband taking the credit. However when Henry finds out his affair with Betty has resulted in her pregnancy, he becomes concerned that everything he built with his wife will come apart.

That is the bare-bones description of The Truth and Other Lies, a devastatingly clever novel by the German author Sascha Arango. It would probably be classified as a suspense or mystery novel even though we know who's doing what from the outset. The mystery is in what is being done not who is doing it. The pleasure here is watching a charismatic and ultimately sociopathic individual dig himself in deeper and deeper as little plot twists make his dilemma even more outrageous.

Henry Hayden reminds me of Tom Ripley, a equally likeable and elusive protagonist. Like Ripley, Henry has a secret past and is adept at hiding the truth about himself. It doesn't hurt that Arango's themes and style seem similar to Ripley's creator, Patricia Highsmith. Arango has a similar talent for empathy with ones who feel no empathy and a healthy cynicism of human nature. But, again like Highsmith, Arango turns that cynicism into a playful if mostly wicked look at the dark side of man.

The biggest twist comes early and I will not say what that is. But the success of the novel hinges on that twist. "The best laid plans of mice and men" is working overtime in this story and the fun is to see how many precarious bends this Jenga-like plot can take without toppling over. It works because Henry is so complex in his twistedness. Characterization is what finally wins out in the end and all the rest works because we are not so secretly rooting for this immoral individual in spite of ourselves. There are also many minor characters that are well developed and give the story a lot of depth.

There is more than a little similarity with Gone Girl if not in plot but in the motives and personality of the players. Those who liked Gone Girl will catch it and if you didn't like Gone Girl you will probably dislike it for similar reasons. But not reading this novel will be a mistake. It is firmly set up to be the evil little thriller of the year and perhaps the one that raises the bar on the term "literary suspense". Praise should also be given to the outstanding translation which moves everything so effortlessly along. This is my pick for the must-read thriller for 2015.

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