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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


All Men are Liars

Alberto Manguel

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To purchase All Men are Liars

Title: All Men are Liars
Author: Alberto Manguel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2008 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 206 pages
Original in: Spanish
Availability: All Men are Liars - US
Todos los hombres son mentirosos - US
All Men are Liars - UK
All Men are Liars - Canada
All Men are Liars - India
Tous les hommes sont menteurs - France
Alle Menschen lügen - Deutschland
Tutti gli uomini sono bugiardi - Italia
Todos los hombres son mentirosos - España
  • Spanish title: Todos los hombres son mentirosos
  • Translated by Miranda France

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Our Assessment:

B : creative take on memory and biography

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung . 2/10/2010 Edo Reents
The Guardian . 17/9/2010 Steven Poole
The Independent . 13/5/2010 Boyd Tonkin
The NY Times . 22/6/2012 Dwight Garner
The NY Times Book Rev. . 16/12/2012 Michael Jauchen
The Spectator . 25/9/2010 John Preston
TLS A 26/11/2010 Andrew Palmer

  From the Reviews:
  • "Alberto Manguel, the author of the wondrous A History of Reading, has written a novel that is itself, in part, about reading and about how memories of events in literature can be as vivid as those of real life; as well as about writing, and one act of writing in particular, of which we learn near the mystery's end, that is a horrifying betrayal." - Steven Poole, The Guardian

  • "This playful, ingenious but finally tragic novel invites us, in the finest Manguel manner, into a labyrinth of rival narratives with an all-too-real monster at its heart." - Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

  • "(I)nvolving but static. It is Borgesian in tone -- that is, it’s mostly cool and cerebral -- and in its obsessions. (...) One of the best things about All Men Are Liars is the amount of fun Mr. Manguel is willing to poke at himself. (...) Humor is welcome in this short novel, which can verge on preciosity. This book contains a lot of lines -- long on atmosphere, short on meaning -- of the sort that only South American writers can get away with, or try to get away with." - Dwight Garner, The New York Times

  • "Ultimately, Manguel’s novel delights in those authorial sleights of hand that enliven our most sustaining narratives." - Michael Jauchen, The New York Times Book Review

  • "If ever there was a book that demanded to be hurled across the room by anyone who’s not a regular user of the word ‘ludic’, this surely is it. It therefore comes as a considerable surprise to report that All Men Are Liars is a remarkable novel -- richly textured, ingeniously constructed and deeply unsettling." - John Preston, The Spectator

  • "The novel ostensibly aims to shed light on the circumstances surrounding his death, but what it actually achieves is broader and more interesting. (...) The predominant pleasure, as we pass from one narrator to another, is a growing impression (an illusion, perhaps, but a pleasing one) of a man’s life coming into focus." - Andrew Palmer, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Each of the five sections of All Men are Liars has a different narrator, as the novel is put together from accounts collected (and the final one written) by the journalist Jean-Luc Terradillos in his attempt to reconstruct the life (and mysterious death) of Alejandro Bevilacqua, an Argentine who died young in Spanish exile some thirty years earlier, and is known for a single work, the novel In Praise of Lying, that is widely (if not universally ...) considered a masterpiece.
       The first account is by 'Alberto Manguel' (who does, indeed, closely resemble the author of this novel), and seems like a fairly straightforward account of Bevilacqua's life, including the story of the discovery and publication of his manuscript, and then, soon later, his death (in 'Manguel''s house). There are a few hints that not everything might be exactly as it seems -- 'Manguel' admits his memory isn't completely reliable, and acknowledges, for example, that: "I began to add to his stories a little fantasy and humor" -- but there doesn't seem any reason to have great doubts about what 'Manguel' has related.
       The second section, narrated by Andrea -- Bevilacqua's girlfriend, and the one who discovered the manuscript and arranged for it to be published (and who is named: "after the heroine of Carmen Leforet's Nada") --, suggests that maybe not everything is quite as it seems, as she begins her account by stating:

     Alberto Manguel is an asshole. Whatever he told you about Alejandro, I'll bet my right arm it's wrong.
       (She also suggests the reason why 'Manguel' is unreliable:
     I think Manguel's inability to pay attention comes from too much reading. All that fantasy, all that invention -- it has to end up softening a person's brain.
       The third section is by someone who had been imprisoned with Bevilacqua in Argentina, who writes a letter to Terradillos giving his version of events (which also explains why he relates the information in a letter, rather than in person) -- and begins off by noting:
     I mistrust letters as a literary genre. They claim to tell an impartial truth independent of their scrumdolious author [...], when the opposite is true: only one chronicler gets to give his version of the story.
       So, yes, Manguel does more than just plant seeds of doubt in the reader's mind about just how reliable these various narrators might be.
       In bringing together the accounts of several chroniclers, Terradillos would seem to manage to counter the danger of relying on a single individual's version of events -- but whether it brings him (and his readers) any closer to the truth is an open question. Certainly a more complex picture emerges, as each account provides new information and a new spin on previously recounted facts, amusingly shifting the story and whatever truth there might be to it.
       It's all quite cleverly conceived and nicely done, suggesting the difficulty of presenting a life on the page, and playfully illustrating the unreliability of memory and storytellers -- especially when they have different motives and (self-)delusions. Almost everything is read into Bevilacqua -- 'Manguel' even suggests that Enrique Vila-Matas' meeting with him: "gave him the inspiration for what, decades later, was to become the wonderful classic, Bartleby & Co." -- but as to how much of the real man is actually conveyed ..... Much like the actual nature of the supposed masterpiece, In Praise of Lying, Bevilacqua is more what these people (and now the reader) make of him than an actual person -- but, then, arguably: so are we all.
       An enjoyable, playful entertainment.

- M.A.Orthofer, 28 May 2012

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All Men are Liars: Reviews: Alberto Manguel: Other books by Alberto Manguel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Translator and critic Alberto Manguel was born in Argentina in 1948.

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© 2012-2019 the complete review

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