REVIEW: The Man Who Saw Everything, Deborah Levy

Wednesday, 13 November 2019

In 1988 Saul Adler (a narcissistic, young historian) is hit by a car on the Abbey Road. He is apparently fine; he gets up and goes to see his art student girlfriend, Jennifer Moreau. They have sex then break up, but not before she has photographed Saul crossing the same Abbey Road. Saul leaves to study in communist East Berlin, two months before the Wall comes down. There he will encounter - significantly - both his assigned translator and his translator's sister, who swears she has seen a jaguar prowling the city. He will fall in love and brood upon his difficult, authoritarian father. And he will befriend a hippy, Rainer, who may or may not be a Stasi agent, but will certainly return to haunt him in middle age.

In The Man Who Saw Everything, Deborah Levy was clearly going for abstract, fluid; a plot-structure that was as shifting and granular as the facets of human memory. It is an interesting concept, one that will surely attract many readers and catch the attention of some of the more highbrow literary prizes, but one that did not really work for me in its form of a novel.
This is primarily because, in order to make its central idea (and the second half of the book) work successfully, it seems that Levy tossed substance aside in her aim of making the overt style come into fruition. Traversing through its pages was almost like trying to follow discombobulated signposts, or crumbs scattered haphazardly by two children, or peeking behind the curtain and getting a good look at all of the strings.
The magic always disappears after that, you know? When you see all of the pieces moving but the final form just keeps moving out of your grasp.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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