Saturday, January 30, 2016

"The Good Liar"

Nicholas Searle grew up in the southwest of England and studied languages at the University of Bath. He spent more years than he cares to remember in public service before deciding in 2011 to leave and begin writing fiction. He lives in the north of England.

Searle applied the Page 69 Test to The Good Liar, his first novel, and reported the following:
From page 69:
But no: after a lunch of a greasy bratwurst smeared in garish mustard, bought from a street seller—a surprise, this, for Roy, given Betty’s dainty elegance—they are off again. They take the S-Bahn train and the bus to Charlottenburg to look at the palace and walk awhile in the Tiergarten district under budding chestnut trees, taking peeks at the large, silent villas protected by sophisticated security systems that line the genteel wide streets.

“I wonder what it must have been like to live here, in the nineteenth century,” she says, “or the early twentieth. Or the ’30s. The decadence, the forced fun, the glittering soirees. All that wealth, that confidence. Little did they know what was to become of them.”

“Oh yes,” he says, bored and sardonic at the same time. He is surprised by her energy and that light in her eyes. He thinks of himself as fit for his age but finds his limbs are weary, and craves the privacy of his hotel room and a quiet nap. He can do without this too, all this enthusiasm. He has lived a life long and eventful enough to know exactly how it was and needs no visual cues. He begins to wish he had never agreed to this trip.

“Oh dear,” says Betty, and his attention returns to the present.

“You look bored. And tired. Have we overdone it?”

“A little, maybe,” he replies with a tolerant smile.

“Let’s get you back to the hotel, then, shall we?”

She locates a cab, and he dozes as their voluble driver, against the backdrop of talk radio, rails against the fools on the roads as he accelerates and brakes erratically. It is all the fault of reunification and Europe, he says, these people flooding here from the East. Roy feels fragile and hears his heart beating. He can almost imagine himself in another age.

He gets his nap, but there is no time for a leisurely dinner as Betty has fluttered her eyelashes at the concierge and obtained tickets for the Berlin Philharmonic that evening.
It’s difficult to believe Page 69 has been chosen at random. It’s in Berlin, a place to which we return several times and contains some of the heart of the book, as well as – without giving the game away too much – smattering of hints and clues as to what lies at the book’s core.

Octogenarians Roy and Betty are in Berlin on a weekend break, having relatively recently found each other and moved in together. Betty’s paying and Roy would have preferred to go elsewhere. So he goes along grudgingly with her delight at being there and her immersion in the city’s culture and history. At heart though he’s seeking to edge his private agenda along and can’t see how this visit plays any material helpful role in that. The final straw is the classical music concert in the evening but Roy can’t afford to show too much distaste for the bourgeois proceedings. Instead, he hides his feelings and later that night goes out for an experience of Berlin’s seedier underbelly, ending up in peril.

On page 69 we can see the cogs of Roy and Betty’s relationship in motion and if we look carefully we may gain a glimpse at what’s really going on. But I hope you can’t; what I want you to sense is that all is not as it seems. Because it isn’t.

What a great page to pick!
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--Marshal Zeringue