The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy Hamish Hamilton August 29th 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.
Slipping slyly between time zones and leaving a spiralling trail, Deborah Levy’s electrifying The Man Who Saw Everythingexamines what we see and what we fail to see, the grave crime of carelessness, the weight of history and our ruinous attempts to shrug it off.
A new novel by Deborah Levy is something to celebrate such is the talent of this wonderful author. The Man Who Saw Everything was no exception and it wasn’t a surprise to see it make the Booker Longlist.
It was one of those novels you need to concentrate, to absorb the quality of the narrative, the characters and the subtle nuances of her themes.
Saul, damaged, confused, obsessed with the GDR, the communist tyrants that ruled the eastern bloc countries. His stay in East Germany was dark, stark, black and white with no colour, the only light the characters he met, the events that shaped the rest of his life. Levy gave us a real sense of the dark scrutiny and fear felt by its citizens, Saul pulled in, unwittingly wrapped into their lives for both good and bad.
Levy jumped forward, the Berlin Wall no more, the East’s inhabitants free of scrutiny, free to travel. It was the change in Saul that was the most profound, and utterly engrossing, his mind played tricks on him, the people from his past encroached on his present muddied his perceptions, his memory.
Levy made us question how we interpret the past, is what we see and remember the same as someone else, did events occur as we thought they did. Could we have made things up, seen and remembered only what we want to see, blinkered to the whole truth, the reality just as Saul appeared to be.
It was the way Levy was able to weave all those thoughts and questions into her narrative, yet still maintained the essence of a story, of characters that resonated, that were diverse and fascinating.
You could see Saul’s mind whirling round, the faces he saw blurred, interchangeable, the intervening years glimpsed through conversations tinged with anger, regret and most importantly a truth he perhaps did not want to face.
His relatives were cruelly pushed away, the doctors, nurses replaced for East German informers as he riled against them all in his tormented anguish.
It was a novel to savour, respect and admire, Levy proving her place at the forefront on the literary world.
I would like to thank Hamid Hamilton for a copy of The Man Who Saw Everything to read and review and to Corinna Bolino for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to review.
About the author
Deborah Levy is a British playwright, novelist and poet. She is the author of seven novels: Beautiful Mutants (1986); Swallowing Geography (1993); The Unloved (1994); Billy & Girl (1996); Swimming Home (2011); Hot Milk (2016) and the forthcoming The Man Who Saw Everything (2019). Swimming Home was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2012; Hot Milk was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2016 and the Goldsmiths Prize 2016. Deborah is also the author of an acclaimed collection of short stories, Black Vodka (2013), and two ‘living autobiographies’, Things I Don’t Want To Know and The Cost of Living. She has written for the Royal Shakespeare Company and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.