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The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy. Book review

August 27, 2019

Book cover of the man who saw everything

In 1988 Saul Adler has a near miss with a Jaguar on the famous Abbey Road. The same road his soon-to-be ex-girlfriend photographs him crossing. Shortly afterwards, and two months before the Berlin wall comes down, Saul leaves to undertake a study in communist East Berlin. Once there he slides into a sexual liaison with his translator and his translator’s sister. It is a strange time where neighbours spy on neighbour. Where you have no idea who you can trust. But there are even stranger times afoot years later when the near miss may have been something far more serious and Saul languishes in a hospital bed. For the first time in his self-indulgent life Saul is forced to come face to face with who he really is amidst a mind bending world that has him slipping between time zones and realities.

Saul Adler is a most unappealing character. A screaming narcissist of the kind who is thrust upon you at a party and forevermore you are prepared to take the most inconvenient of detours to avoid, even if it means arriving late for an important appointment. However, Deborah Levy clearly delights in leaving the reader no option but to indulge Saul by reading about him, while seemingly driving the whole story off the edge, then yanking it back at the last second.

The first part of the book, in 1988, moves along in a logical fashion, providing an intriguing glimpse into how life might have been in East Berlin, before the wall came down. The second half of the book is where Saul’s life appears to come off its rails, dragging his time in Berlin into the present in strange and unusual ways.

The Man Who Saw Everything is a challenging read due to its complexity and that past and present seem to be colliding into this man’s life in a way that makes the reader wonder whether this is a case of an unreliable narrator, whether it is actually happening, or both. Should we really be considering this story in terms of the past or present? Which one is he really in? What really happened on the crossing when he encountered the Jaguar?

In other words, be prepared to have your head well and truly messed with in a very interesting way. It’s the type of novel you have to go back into again to fully grasp, but that’s all part of the fun of the author never once allowing you, the reader, to become complacent.

 The Man Who Saw Everything was courtesy of Hamish Hamilton via NetGalley.

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