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Booker Prize 2019 Longlist: The Man Who Saw Everything by Deborah Levy



Book 6 and this is our official half way point (The Testaments is not released until after the short list is announced) read and rated by panellists Book Worm, Anita, Nicole, Susie & Tracy.

Synopsis from Booker Prize Website: 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.

Book Worm’s Thoughts: This is a very clever book and I am sure I have missed loads of hidden hints and messages. I loved the way the second half of the book turns the first half on its head and how when you look back you can see the clues you overlooked first time around.

For Beatles fans the conspiracy behind the legendary Abbey Road album cover is a central feature of the plot. Die hard Beatles fans will instantly see the references spotted throughout the narrative.

Writing quality: 4/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Anita’s Thoughts:  This book blows my mind. Levy is a rare talent, and here she plays with structure and an unreliable narrator while still using straightforward, accessible prose that never gets between the reader and the story. Which is not the say the reader won’t have to do their share of the work. I never stopped thinking while reading this book. It’s like a mind puzzle (if you liked the movie, Inception, you’ll know what I mean – – though this is NOT a science fiction story).

The book is divided into two sections, and the first section seems straightforward on its face, and then the second section turns the whole book on its head. It is simultaneously easy to read and hard to interpret. Personally, I love a book that makes the reader work a bit. I will confess that the ending didn’t provide me with 100% satisfaction, but I really enjoyed the book nonetheless.

Note, I’m refraining from outlining the plot at all, and that’s because most of the fun is letting the story reveal itself and enjoying how your perspective of the protagonist changes and morphs as the story evolves. Thematically, it touches on love, loss, sexuality, mental health, and the imperfections of human perception.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 18/20

Nicole’s Thoughts: It’s like this Deborah Levy, you rock my world.  It’s like someone told her, out in California there’s a reader named Nicole D.  Write a book for her… and she did.  I know it won’t be perfect for everybody, but it was for me.   Pretty much anytime you throw in Beatles references, I’m in.  But the way she did it, and the way she wove it all together was masterful.

Saul Adler was the first person I thought of this morning.  In such a short book, he left an indelible mark.  The structure was so clever.  The book was filled with Levy’s trademark  wordplay, there was history and friendships, love and self-examination/delusion?, politics and sexuality.  I truly didn’t want the book to end.   It was a stunner.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 4/4
Plot development: 4/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 20/20

Tracy’s Thoughts: Deborah Levy is becoming a favorite author for me- she consistently writes a story that is a challenge that I’m willing to take on, and love the ride. This one was no exception.

Once again, an unreliable narrator, but this one wasn’t trying to be unreliable. That had to be hard to write- but Levy made it look easy. This touched on many parts of the human experience- love, loss, and memory foremost.

I could easily go back and reread this one. I think there will be something new in each reading.

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 4/5
Character development: 3/4
Plot development: 3/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 17/20

Susie’s Thoughts: I have thoroughly enjoyed and been challenged by everything I have read from Deborah Levy, and The Man Who Saw Everything is no exception; in fact I think it might be the best we’ve had from her yet. She’s not for everyone, in the same way that Ali Smith is not for everyone. Her writing almost requires you to suspend your expectations about what a novel should be.

The book is presented in two parts, and it is only in the second part that we realise just how unreliable the narrator is. Who doesn’t love an unreliable narrator? I’m also a sucker for a non-linear narrative when it is well executed, and here it certainly is, although the reader is still required to do some work. In saying that I still feel as though it is accessible. Levy masterfully pieces together the protagonist’s jumbled history and memories, and it plays with concepts of time, place, love, and loss. It left me reeling, and I’m positive that I missed enough to warrant a re-read at some stage. I would be quite happy to see this one take out the prize

Writing quality: 5/5
Originality: 5/5
Character development: 3.5/4
Plot development: 3.5/4
Overall enjoyment: 2/2
Total: 19/20

The Man Who Saw Everything 18.2
Lanny 15.92
Frankissstein 15.2
My Sister, the Serial Killer 14.6
Lost Children Archive 13.3
The Wall 11.57

What are your thoughts on this one will it make the short list?


One Comment Post a comment
  1. Nicole R #

    I must read this one. I never got to her previous book that everyone enjoyed (something about milk…Hot Milk?) and I feel like I need to give her a whirl.


    August 21, 2019

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